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Why college matters more today than 20 years ago
There's been a big switch in where low-income Americans are working, and education is huge factor as to why. - photo by JJ Feinauer
It might be easy to believe these days that a college education simply isn't worth the time, or the money, but new research by The Hamilton Project an initiative by The Brookings Institution that aims to "inject innovative and pragmatic policy options into the national debate" paints a different picture.

"Non-college educated workers are substantially more likely to work in lower-paying service occupations than in the recent past," the study concludes.

The issue of income inequality is greatly impacted by this trend, according to the study, because this migration of jobs accounts for "one-third of the total change in earnings for men without a high school degree and two-fifths of the total change for similarly educated women."

The study found that while uneducated workers traditionally took their pay in construction or manufacturing jobs, service jobs (most notably, fast food) now make up the lion's share of work for the non-college educated. And those jobs pay substantially less.

But what about those who are college educated?

"Individuals with a bachelors degree or more are just as likely to be employed today as they were in 1990, and in similar occupations, and with steadily rising earnings," the study found.

This all may seem intuitive college, after all, is typically considered a major indicator of upward mobility but rising tuition costs and an ever increasing student debt burden has led some to question whether or not the middle class and poor should even worry about college.

"If a college degree were a regulated investment opportunity, it would have to bear the standard warning that past performance is no guarantee of future performance," education researcher George Leef wrote in Forbes in 2013. "The future wont be similar to the past for many college graduates and telling young people that college will be a good investment is careless and irresponsible."

But the Hamilton Project study seeks to dispel such thinking, especially with regard to those coming from lower-income households.

"There really is a shift away from the sectors where less-educated workers can earn a decent living," Neil Irwin wrote at The New York Times' Upshot blog. "The jobs that are being created for less-educated workers really do pay less than the ones that are being lost."
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