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Biggest Wage Gap in 48 Years

What a difference four decades can make. In 1965, John Lennon passed his driving test, African Americans won the right to vote, and the Rolling Stones released its “Satisfaction” album.


It was also the year when the average American high school graduate earned just $7,449 less than a bachelor’s degree-earning counterpart.

Fast forward to today, and it’s safe to say that current high school graduates are experiencing much less “Satisfaction” than those of yesteryear.


The salary gap is, well, gaping: A 2013 high school graduate now earns $17,500 less than a Millennial with a bachelor’s degree.

So says a new report by the Pew Research Center, which surveyed and analyzed Americans ages 25 to 32.  Here are the main points:


Opportunity cost of not having a bachelor’s soars


Despite the ballyhooing of tuition eclipsing inflation, not going to college costs the average American more. The Pew report showed that young adults with just a high school diploma earned 62 percent of the average college graduate’s salary.


That’s down from 81 percent in 1965.


As Paul Taylor, Pew’s executive vice president and co-author of the Pew report, said: “In today’s knowledge-based economy, the only thing more expensive than getting a college education is not getting one.”


More than ever, STEM counts


Contrary to popular opinion, America is still a country that builds.


But more than ever, we build with code. The milling machines and socket sets of our post-agrarian manufacturing heyday are history: The new economy is all about cloud computing, discrete mathematics, and engineering project management software.


That’s why Pew researchers found that recent graduates who majored in STEM have hit the jobs mother lode: 60 percent said that their current job is “very closely” related to the college or graduate field of study.


Compare that to 43 percent of liberal arts and business majors. STEM isn’t just a four-letter word to liberal arts majors: It’s the future.


Debt or no debt, job or no job, Millennials stand by their degrees


Talk to any recent graduate today over a beer, and the conversation often inevitably turns to the economy. There will be mutual groans about heavy unemployment (or underemployment), and tired tales of juggling multiple jobs to make a dent in student loan debt.


But for all their hardships, nine in ten Millennials are optimistic: That’s how many said that their bachelor’s degree had paid off or will pay off in the future, according to Pew’s separate polling last year.


And for the debt-laden graduate? About 86 percent said their degrees have been, or will be, worth it.


The keyword may be “will.” The American Dream is as much about future rewards as it is about today’s tribulations. Note the future-oriented words “preparing” and “advance” in the following paragraph:


46 percent of Millennial college graduates say that their education has been “very useful” in preparing them for work and a career, compared to 31percent of Millennials without a degree. Also, 61percent of degree-holding Millennials are confident they have the training and education to advance in their careers, compared to 41percent of non-degree holding counterparts.


Affordable education is a political priority


To make college and global competitiveness less of a pipe dream, policymakers are hard at work. For example, both President Barack Obama and Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida have pushed proposals to make higher education more affordable.


This emphasis on education isn’t new to American history, but higher education now matters more than ever:


In his 1964 speech at Ohio University, President Johnson declared: “And with your courage and with your compassion and your desire, we will build a Great Society. It is a Society where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled.”


Were LBJ still alive today, he most certainly would have revised his speech. We now live in a Society where, to put food on the table, no Millennial adult can remain unschooled.

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