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An in-depth look at regional and national economic trends that matter to the Fifth District. Updates will be published several times a month.

Regional Matters

February 20, 2018

Update: Educational Attainment in the Fifth District

Article by: Joseph Mengedoth

Last January, we launched a report series on educational attainment, which showed state-level trends in attainment over time, earnings and employment by attainment, and attainment by race, age, and gender. These reports were recently updated with the latest data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (for the calendar year 2016), and there were some noteworthy developments since the previous year.

In 2016, every Fifth District jurisdiction, along with the nation, saw an increase in the share of the over-25 population with a bachelor’s degree or higher. The largest increase of 1.2 percentage points was reported in West Virginia, where the share rose from 19.6 percent to 20.8 percent. Meanwhile, the share in the District of Columbia rose just 0.1 percentage point to 56.7 percent. Additionally, the proportion of the population with less than a high school degree declined in every state except West Virginia, where the rate was virtually unchanged at 14.0 percent. (See chart below)

The changes in unemployment rates and median earnings by educational attainment were even more striking. Unemployment rates for adults with less than a high school degree declined in every state, with the largest drop occurring in South Carolina, where the rate fell from 14.4 percent in 2015 to 9.4 percent.

For those with a high school degree, unemployment rates improved everywhere except D.C. and West Virginia. Unemployment rates also declined for those with some college everywhere except in D.C. Lastly, jobless rates for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher declined in each state except Maryland and North Carolina, where rates ticked up 0.1 percentage point. Despite the small increase in those unemployment rates, they remained considerably low at 2.3 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, median earnings rose across the majority of educational attainment categories with a few exceptions. Most notably, median wages for the over-25 population in D.C. with some college or an associate’s degree declined 9.2 percent to $35,313. The next steepest decline also came from D.C. for those with less than a high school diploma, which dropped 6.1 percent to $22,167.

The largest percentage increase in median earnings was for those with less than a high school degree in West Virginia (10.2 percent); however, that group of people continued to report the lowest level of median earnings in the Fifth District at just $20,512. The second and third largest increases both came from D.C. for those who completed high school (6.5 percent) and for those with a graduate or professional degree (5.6 percent).


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Views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond or the Federal Reserve System.

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Joseph Mengedoth
(804) 697-2860

Sonya Ravindranath Waddell
Director of Regional Economics
(804) 697-2694