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Regional Matters

February 18, 2021

2019 Educational Attainment in the Fifth District

District Dialogues

The Richmond Fed is hosting a six-part series on racial and economic disparities in education and COVID-19. Visit the District Dialogues webpage to learn more and to register.

The Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey estimates show that educational attainment rose modestly in some parts of the Fifth Federal Reserve District while slightly decreasing in other areas. South Carolina saw the largest gain in the percent of the adult population 25 years of age or older with at least some college education—a 1.3 percentage point increase to 59.8 percent. West Virginia, which has the lowest level of educational attainment in the Fifth District, saw a 1.2 percentage point decline to 46.9 percent. All Fifth District jurisdictions have experienced notable increases in the percent of the population with at least some college education since 2010. Between 2010 and 2019, increases in the share of the population with at least some college education ranged from 4.4 percentage points in Maryland to 9.6 percentage points in the District of Columbia.

Although Fifth District jurisdictions have experienced growth in educational attainment, large differences in educational attainment can be observed across counties. For example, the share of residents 25 years of age or older who hold a bachelor’s degree ranges from 5.4 percent in McDowell County, W.Va., to 77.6 percent in Falls Church City, Va. Among the top 10 counties for share of residents who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, seven are in Virginia, two in Maryland, and one in North Carolina. The bottom 10 counties for the same measure consists of six counties in West Virginia, two in South Carolina, one in Virginia, and one in North Carolina.

In addition to large differences in educational attainment at the county level, there are notable racial disparities in educational attainment in the Fifth District. In the Fifth District as a whole, Asians made up the highest share of the population who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher at 61.5 percent, while the Hispanic or Latino populations made up the lowest share at 22.2 percent. (See charts below.) Educational attainment by race can vary widely by state. For example, 17 percent of the Hispanic or Latino population in North Carolina hold a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 52 percent in the District of Columbia. Additionally, 13.7 percent of the black population in South Carolina hold a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 30.8 percent in Maryland.

The data also provide insight into the unemployment rate, the labor force participation rate, and median earnings by level of education. Those holding a bachelor’s degree or higher as well as those with some college or an associate’s degree fared well across the Fifth District with respect to low unemployment rates and high labor force participation rates. In all of the district’s jurisdictions, the unemployment rate for people with at least a bachelor’s degree was at or below the national average of 3.2 percent. The labor force participation rate for this group ranged from 84.9 percent in West Virginia to 92.8 percent in the District of Columbia. In contrast, people with less than a high school education saw unemployment rates ranging from 6.3 percent in Virginia to 13.2 percent in the District of Columbia, as well as noticeably lower labor force participation rates ranging from 43.9 percent in West Virginia to 64.6 percent in Maryland.

The difference in median earnings between education levels is striking. Nationally, the median earnings of the population with a bachelor’s degree were 76.3 percent greater than the median earnings of the population with a high school education or equivalent. This figure ranged from 48.2 percent in West Virginia to 136.8 percent in the District of Columbia. In other words, a college-educated worker in the District of Columbia might earn more than twice as much as a worker with only a high school degree.

For detailed charts for all Fifth District jurisdictions, including median earnings by attainment level, demographic breakouts, and more, take a look at our Educational Attainment report.

The strong correlation between education and employment outcomes is one reason policymakers and economists are concerned about the educational disruptions many students have experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These disruptions can have long-term effects and have fallen unequally on students who were already at risk, potentially exacerbating preexisting disparities. Understanding these disparities and how to address them is the subject of District Dialogues, a six-part series hosted by the Richmond Fed. The series brings together educators, policymakers, and economists for frank discussions about the challenges our communities are facing and possible solutions. Visit the District Dialogues homepage to learn more and to register.

Interested in reading more articles like this one? Check out Our Regional Focus, where you can find additional research and analysis on education and preparation and other pressing economic issues that affect our communities.

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