Economic disparities increasing among youngest workers

The youngest workers graduating from college may be starting jobs with burdensome debt, but they are surpassing their less-educated peers with higher personal earnings and full-time employment, a national survey shows.

In an era of historic student loan debt, the Pew Research Center recently found that Millennial workers with a college degree earn about $17,500 more annually than their coworkers with a high school diploma.

College-educated Millennials are also less likely to be unemployed and live in poverty, the survey found.

Jeni Neuman, who has spent the last 20 years in the human resources profession, said the findings underline the declining value of a high school-only education. Other area experts had mixed reactions.

“The level of competition in our marketplace is full,” Neuman said. “The stakes are high. If you don’t have a basis of education beyond high school, you’re going to be further behind.”

Neuman started the Bartlett-based human resources firm People2Results two years ago and consults with numerous businesses in McHenry County. More businesses in the Chicago area are gravitating to college-educated Millennials, she said.

The earning disparity between Millennial workers with degrees and workers with diplomas is also the widest in decades.

College-educated workers in 1965 earned $7,499 more than high-school educated workers. With the Millennial generation, college graduates are earning $17,500 more than their less-educated peers, the Pew survey found.

Workers in general who earned a college degree have increased their earnings since 1965, while high school-only workers have seen median earnings drop by $3,000 in that time.

Pew Research developed the findings after analyzing U.S. Census data and surveying 2,002 adults.

Despite the disparity, a college education may not always guarantee success in the workplace, said Jonathan Teune, a college and career counselor at Huntley High School.

Teune advises numerous students and parents about life after high school, and he has found that students without a concrete plan can struggle after they graduate.

Without an idea of how to use a college education, graduates may encounter more challenges since the costs of a four-year higher education are growing, Teune said.

“For the vast majority of people – take cost out – college is definitely the way to go,” he said. “It will open up a lot of opportunities in the future. It will make you a candidate for jobs even if you don’t have the right degree. But that cost factor is huge.”

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