Average US Income Based on Education Levels

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We all know that it’s hard to become a high-earner in this country without a college degree. Access to the middle class is increasingly reserved for those with some higher education under their belts. Let’s take a closer look at the average salary by education level to see what dividends education pays.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 88% of Americans had at least a high school diploma or GED in 2015. Thirty-three percent had a bachelor’s or more, and 12% had an advanced degree such as a master’s or professional degree, or a doctorate. To see what a difference education makes, check out the average salary by education level.

The Average Salary With Less Than a High School Diploma

Workers with less than a high school diploma are the lowest earners on average when you examine the average salary by education level. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median weekly earnings for those with less than a high school degree are $493. That works out to $25,636 per year, assuming a year of constant earning. The unemployment rate for Americans with less than a high school diploma is 8%, the highest of any of the educational categories.

The Average Salary With a High School Diploma

Earnings are higher for those with a high school diploma. Median weekly earnings for workers with a high school diploma equal $678. That works out to $35,256 per year. The unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma is 5.4%.

The Average Salary With Some College, No Degree

Having some college credits but no degree still improves your earnings over having just a high school diploma. The average salary of someone with some college and no degree is $738 per week, $38,376 per year. The unemployment rate for people in this category is 5%. The problem for many people in the some-college-no-degree category is that they have student debt from their college days but lack the degree that would bump them into a higher earning category that could help them get out of debt.

The Average Salary With an Associate’s Degree

Having an associate’s degree gives you an edge over someone with no degree, but lower average earnings than someone with a bachelor’s degree. Median weekly earnings for workers with an associate’s degree are $798, for an annualized salary of $41,496. The unemployment rate in this category is 3.8%, which is lower than the average across all educational attainment levels (4.3%).

The Average Salary With a Bachelor’s Degree

Americans with a bachelor’s degree earn a weekly average of $1,137. That’s higher than the median weekly earnings for workers at all education levels, $860. Average earnings for workers with bachelor’s degrees work out to $59,124 per year. The unemployment rate for Americans with a bachelor’s degree is 2.8%.

The Average Salary With a Master’s Degree

Median earnings for holders of master’s degrees are $1,341 per week, $69,732 per year. The unemployment rate for workers with master’s degrees is 2.4%. The number of Americans with a master’s degree has been steadily rising. In part, that’s because of the “wage premium” that comes with a master’s degree. That wage premium is the extra money that those with a master’s degree have relative to those who only have a bachelor’s degree.

The Average Salary With a Professional Degree

Workers with a professional degree earn a median weekly salary of $1,730, the highest weekly earnings of any of the educational categories. That works out to $89,960 per year. The unemployment rate for holders of professional degrees is the lowest on our list, at 1.5%.

The Average Salary With a Doctorate

You might think that Americans with a doctorate would earn more than those with a professional degree, but in fact they earn less. Median weekly earnings for workers with doctorates are $1,623. Annualized, that’s $84,396. The unemployment rate for Americans with doctorates is 1.7%.

Bottom Line

Looking at the average salary by education level can be illuminating, but keep in mind that salary isn’t everything. Even people with high salaries may live beyond their means and end up with less retirement income than they need to be comfortable. And if your salary isn’t as high as the average in your educational cohort, there’s no need to panic. These averages are for all full-time workers over 25, so if you’re still in the earlier stage of your career keep in mind that the BLS averages are counting more senior workers, too.

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