By Lauren Weber
As college costs keep rising and student-loan debt causes national consternation, more Americans are asking whether young people should bother with college.
Here, at least, is one point in favor of higher education: Americans who fail to complete at least some post-secondary education – if not a college degree, then an associate’s degree or some college credit — sabotage their chances of landing a job as the economy continues to recover, according to a new report out Wednesday.
The U.S. economy will generate 55 million job openings by 2020, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, and 65% of those jobs will require some training beyond a high-school education.
Of the 55 million openings, 24 million are projected to be new positions, with the balance coming from retirements of older workers. Among the fastest-growing sectors will be healthcare, community services, and science- and technology-related fields.
At current matriculation and graduation rates, the U.S. will be short of 5 million workers with post-secondary credentials, the Center predicts.
As the U.S. has moved from an industrial economy to one based more on knowledge, jobs have demanded greater levels of education. In 1973, according to the Georgetown Center, 72% of jobs required a high-school education or less. In 2010, that figure was 41%, and by 2020, it will have fallen to 36%.
“Employers are chasing skills,” said Anthony Carnevale, the Center’s director. This is a good sign for wage growth, he added. The Center has found that college graduates earn 84% more over their lifetimes than people with only a high-school diploma, and that the gap will continue to widen.
Several organizations have shown that the majority of jobs created since the 2007-2009 recession have been low-skill, low-wage positions, primarily in fields such as retail sales, home healthcare and food service. A 2012 report from the National Employment Law Project, for example, found that 58% of the jobs added during the recovery were in categories like these.
By contrast, the Georgetown study presents an optimistic view of middle-class job creation for the near future. Carnevale said the Georgetown study uses a broader set of data than studies like NELP’s (which relies on a small sample from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey), and that, as a forecast, it is based on projections of steady though slow growth in the U.S. economy between 2010 and 2020.
“There is a certain amount of momentum in the economy and the labor market right now, and all the indicators are headed in the same direction,” he said.
The shortfall of educated workers will cost the U.S. about $500 billion per year in lost output by 2025, the Center predicted in a 2011 study.