2016: The Middle-School Premium Returns With a Vengeance

Mid-September, the Census Bureau publishes its Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance tables for the previous year. I spent a few hours combing through the latest update to see what they say about young people’s incomes by education level. Going back to 1991, the data tend to validate my position that college education is not raising people’s earnings with human-capital superpowers. This can be shown by observing how more people go to college while their aggregate income isn’t rising.

Okay, well, it rose a little bit this year.

Here’s the table comparing income growth by education level for people in the 25-to-34 age bracket. It’s the mean average of the annual growth rates of both aggregate earnings and per-capita earnings. We want college grads’ per-capita earnings to be growing at least as fast or faster than their aggregate earnings because it would show that the population effects aren’t being swamped by human-capital effects. Alas, they are.

In most years, high-school graduates’ incomes have risen more per capita than college grads’. Over a prolonged time period, this doesn’t bode well for college graduates.

But this year—whoa! Dig those less-than-9th graders! They received a more than one-quarter wage hike! When was the last time you got a quarter raise? Long live the middle-school premium!

Yes, this last one is horse-race reporting with erratic data, but until the consensus acknowledges that college is not producing positive outcomes in the aggregate, I’m not apologizing.

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