Recent College Graduates Making 8-11% Less Than They Did 10 Years Ago

To the graduating class of 2012: All that money you or your parents have spent or borrowed to pay your tuition for the past few years? It’s not getting the same return on investment it did a decade ago.

According to the folks at the Economic Policy Institute, the average inflation-adjusted wage for male college graduates aged 23 to 29 was $21.68/hour. That’s an 11% over decline over the last ten years. And while wages for females in the same age and education group are only down 7.6% during that same time period, women still make significantly less on average ($18.80/hour).

As for those people who choose to go straight from high school into the workforce, the average wage for males aged 19-25 dropped 10% to $11.68/hour. Females in this age and education group saw a similar drop of 9.2% to $9.92/hour.

Overall, average hourly wages have increased over the last decade, but that stat could be misleading, as a large number of low-income workers are now out of a job and thus not figured into the average wage.

And, points out the Wall Street Journal, while employers tend to not cut pay of long-time employees, they make up for the lack of pay cuts by offering less cash to new hires.

Young Adults See Their Pay Decline [WSJ]


Edit Your Comment

  1. dolemite says:

    Wasn’t there an article somewhere a few days ago about CEO pay being up 20+% this year?
    No surprise there. Even though I technically make more now than I did 10 years ago at the same job, it feels like less, as our raises average out to about 1% a year.

  2. Cat says:

    Considering inflation, I’m making 8-11% less than I did just 2 years ago.

  3. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    Making less and paying significantly more for things like health insurance and gasoline.

    Though, to be honest I’m surprised that the average is so high. In many fields, all you can do with a bachelor’s degree is low-paid, under appreciated technician work, and it takes a graduate degree to be an analyst and be able to sign off on your own work. I wasn’t able to break $40k until I completed my MS.

    • dolemite says:

      Yup, then add in the massive student loans and interest into the mix…

    • galm666 says:

      So if the average worker is being more productive, being paid less, and being charged more in their everyday lives…

      …where the hell is the money going?

    • Matthew PK says:

      Maybe *you* need a graduate degree, but not everybody. I work in a technical field with no graduate degree and I do fine based on my abilities alone.
      Before I had a BS I was also able to get by ok.

      Plenty of people out there are much smarter than me, too.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        I never claimed it applied to everybody. Please re-read my post, paying special attention to the “In many fields…” part.

        • Matthew PK says:

          Which fields? Perhaps it is in your interest to pursue a different field.

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            I’m not following your logic. I’m over 40 and already have a MS. Why would I switch fields?

    • jesusofcool says:

      I agree that these numbers almost seem high (and I imagine they are as they may not count all the people in that age range who have dropped out of the workforce entirely/gone back to school full-time due to prolonged unemployment). As a young professional, I’ve seen a couple issues at play. Expected experience/education for jobs has increased to levels beyond what is actually necessary because employers can get those people in this economy. This makes it increasingly hard for YPs to move up the ladder. Other issue is age discrimination and it’s too bad that not enough people talk about it on the young end of the spectrum. Too many baby boomer managers think employees in their 20s, regardless of experience and capability, aren’t responsible or reliable. And when it comes down to raises in a difficult economy, if it’s between 2 individuals and one is single and in their 20s and one is in their 40s with a family, they’re giving it to the older person.

  4. sirwired says:

    If both college and non-college groups dropped by a similar amount, and the gap between the two remained constant, I’d say the Return on Investment is still pretty close to what it was before. (Not identical due to tuition increases, but still probably quite worth it.)

    • ChuckECheese says:

      Don’t change the terms of the discussion. Here, the article is about how wages now compare with wages of a similar group 10 years ago. Not how wage differences between two groups have changed over the past 10 years and if their amount of variation has stayed the same.

      • blueman says:

        Yes, but then what’s the point of the story? Unless the percentages for college grads has dropped far more than the rest of the workforce you’re left with: “College graduates making less, just like everybody else.”

  5. remusrm says:

    Without college I make more… I do not condone not going to college, but in my view so far, college only makes drones… over and over again I see more and more people out of college that know nothing, only that they did the homework and memorized everything just to pass the test. Everyone is and expert on Facebook, Twitter, latest trends, how to give the best bj and how to find a woman’s g spot and no clue of their privacy and constitutional rights. Hail college!

    • ldillon says:

      First, money is only one (poor) measure of success. If you can’t think of others, try taking some night classes.

      Second, college is only an opportunity to learn. Too many are just there for the piece of paper.

      It’s usually the science/math types that end up being culture/history/literature illiterate, but think they know everything. They do tend to make the most money after graduation.

      • Dallas_shopper says:

        When I was in college (graduated 15 years ago), the STEM students had such demanding degree plans just to graduate in 4-5 years with a bachelor’s that they didn’t have time for “fluffies” like us liberal arts students did.

        • pythonspam says:

          I had a demanding degree plan, but added “fluffies” on top of it. The music classes were the only thing that kept me sane.

          • Dallas_shopper says:

            My roommate in college was EE…I think she had room for six hours of fluffies on her degree plan, besides a pared-down version of the basic curriculum that all of us had to take (English, history, etc). She had almost no room for electives whatsoever, pulled 18 hours a semester, and still took 4.5 years to graduate with a bachelor’s.

            • pythonspam says:

              I got my BS in M.E. from GT. When I got there, the curriculum called for 12-15 hours per semester and had the core of english/history, foreign language, ethics, and CS. In addition to ME classes, there was a good portion of math (thru Calc3, PDE, and Stats) and Engineering crossover disciplines – physics, chem, materials, EE.
              Since then, they have cut down on the number and selection among the remaining ‘electives’, so the 2 technical electives that were fulfilled by advanced physics classes now have to be ME electives, i.e. IC engines, RFAC, or undergrad research.

    • BorkBorkBork says:

      Good point – too many people only go through the motions only to find they haven’t really learned anything applicable

      But I’m OK with that – I’ve worked my butt off every semester, actually learned the topics, not wasted my time with ridiculous parties, etc.

      So let them continue to pump out stupid drones…they’re easy competition for when I’m applying for jobs.

    • lalalafakename says:

      You sound really bitter towards college-goers. To counter your anecdotal generalization, whenever I come home and see my former high school acquaintances that avoided college, I notice they’re really immature, often still live with their parents, and on average they’re unemployed/underemployed — with a few exceptions of course, but I honestly believe people use college as a growth tool. You’re thrust into a new environment, away from the people you’ve depended on all your life.

      This might seem like a crazy idea, but it’s really easy to balance a small amount of partying with your desire to learn/get your money’s worth if you have a sliver of self control.

      It’s great that you make more without college. Sadly, most people do make more with a college degree, it’s just a simple fact of life, so I’m not sure what the point of your rant was..

  6. az123 says:

    Shocking with the economy down that this would happen… oh and lets not forget that 10 years ago we were illogically overpaying people for jobs as well….

  7. Portlandia says:

    I wonder how this would look if you took out all the graduates of “for profit” higher education programs. My guess is these for profit programs are turning out more and more people that would not have qualified for traditional programs and are bringing the average down.

    I have a cousin who has tried taking the short cut route through Heald and now Uof Phoenix and is still in the same crappy job she had before because she really isn’t qualified for anything else. Just a thought.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      Given how ridiculously low the graduation rates are at the for-profit college, I can’t imagine there are enough of them to impact overall wage distribution.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      1. University of Phoenix, Northern Virginia Campus. Graduation rate: 6 percent.
      2. University of Maryland, University College. Graduation rate: 6 percent.
      3. University of Phoenix, Maryland Campus. Graduation rate: 7 percent.
      4. University of the District of Columbia. Graduation rate: 12 percent.
      5. Strayer University, District of Columbia. Graduation rate: 15 percent.

      A new report on graduation rates at for-profit colleges by a nonprofit research and advocacy group charges that such colleges deliver “little more than crippling debt,” citing federal data that suggests only 9 percent of the first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree students at the University of Phoenix, the nation’s largest for-profit college, graduate within six years.

      The report, “Subprime Opportunity,” by the Education Trust, found that in 2008, only 22 percent of the first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree students at for-profit colleges over all graduate within six years, compared with 55 percent at public institutions and 65 percent at private nonprofit colleges.

      Among Phoenix’s online students, only 5 percent graduated within six years, and at the campuses in Cleveland and Wichita, Kan., only 4 percent graduated within six years.

  8. Cat says:

    employers tend to not cut pay of long-time employees

    Hahahaha, you’re funny.

  9. MrEvil says:

    WHOOO for being the outlier. I’m a college drop-out and make more than my peers with a B.S. or B.A.

    The way I see it you can either work hard academically, or work hard being the best at a particular skill and you can still end up a winner.

    • Aking0667 says:

      Your circumstances are totally based on luck. Be happy you were fortunate to either be lucky or privileged.

      • SRK says:

        How is this person lucky or privileged because of this??

        Some people just work hard. Nothing lucky about that.

        • Aking0667 says:

          Lucky enough to be an outlier. Lots of people work hard yet get nowhere. Time to take off the we’re not poor, we’re just temporally embarrassed millionaires viewpoint.

          • dolemite says:

            Exactly. Everyone (especially “The Right”) acts like the only thing keeping us all from being millionaires is hard work and determination. Tell that to thousands of farmers being put out of business by Monsato. Or the thousands of businesses shut down by Walmart. With growing globalization, do these people honestly believe their little business would survive if any corporation set their sights on them?

    • SavijMuhdrox says:

      the key there being “work hard”.

  10. SRK says:

    Well, there are probably more people graduating college than there were 10 years ago. Seems like simple matter of supply and demand. Maybe EVERYONE shouldn’t go to college no matter the cost. Way too many folks are spending unrealistic amounts of money for unprofitable educations. I’m all in favor of college. I graduated in recently myself. But people are going because they think “it’s just what you do” and it’s costing them way more money than it is worth. For the right education at a reasonably priced school, college can be a great value. But people think it’s a necessity when it’s not. They also think ANY degree is good enough and they’re not. Some fields just don’t pay.

    • exconsumer says:

      Maybe true, but (and I kinda said this below) that’s never been the story the business world/employers told. See, I’m a member of gen X / gen Y and we were told that everyone could be rich, everyone could have a piece of the pie, that employers would jump at all these educated folks. It’s frustrating now to hear “Oh, we never intended to make use of you, and even now that you’re here, well, we just can’t be bothered.”

      I see it as the misuse of a generation. We could be managing large, important, dynamic projects . . instead, we do the menial labor we were told our education would make obsolete entirely.

    • Kate says:

      My advanced IT job only requires a 4 college degree – any degree.

    • jesusofcool says:

      I also think this is about employers redefining their expectations. The BA/BS is the new high school education. Almost every low paying administrative assistant job I’ve come across expects a BA/BS. The issue is in part that employers have begun to demand education because they can, not necessarily because it’s relevant and required to be able to do the job competently.

      • yurei avalon says:

        Amen to that. I spent over a year looking for a better job while employed somewhere shitty. Everyone everywhere seemed to want AS or BS for any sort of menial desk job. I mean, we’re talking jobs paying $20-30k a year. Absurd, you’d spend more than that for the degree! And you still could not live on your own up here for that!

        I lucked out and found a job giving me $35k a year salary on my HS diploma. Thank god for that.

  11. Hi_Hello says:

    I’ll be more interested in the top 10 college grad for each major. See how much they make.

    And what is the mode GPA for the college grads… and what their majors where.

    I have a feeling that there’s a lot of type of degrees offer to college grads that might not help them get a high paying job.

  12. exconsumer says:

    Well, I don’t think the business world was ever prepared to actually deal with the dynamic, educated individuals they asked for. “Oh I could promote you or pay you more or make better use of you if you’d only had more education.” The baby boomers heard this over and over, and believed it. So they sent their kids to college in droves, and now the story changes: “Oh, college isn’t for everyone, you should have a different degree, or college made you soft.” It’s a shell game. . . only this time we have a generation of educated citizens ready to stir the pot.

    Things could get interesting.

  13. eturowski says:

    Recent College Graduates Making 8-11% Less Than They Did 10 Years Ago*

    *if they can even find a job.

  14. PsychicPsycho says:

    Good lord, I’d give away my masters to be making $18/hr.

    • LanMan04 says:

      Masters in what?

    • dolemite says:


    • Ti Perihelion says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one flabbergasted by that figure. $18.80/hr? $21.68/hr? Seriously? It’s been three years since I graduated, and as of January, I make eight cents above average for female high school graduates, and that’s part-time. I don’t believe these $18-21/hr jobs exist, but I’d be f*cking rich if I had one.

  15. Hungry Dog says:

    You all forget, they are doing you a favor by allowing you to work. Even if the wages are low you should be thankful for the low pay and the denial of food stamps since you are $120 dollars over the minimum requirement.


  16. u1itn0w2day says:

    I’m surprised it’s not more.

    In decades past a college degree was probably required for middle management and above. Corporate restructing over the years has lowered the need for middle administrative management. That includes giving a ‘mear’ clerk more power and responsibility, outsourcing and technology. Middle management in the past was nothing but a messenger.

    Same for alot of science jobs. Alot of those jobs have become specialties for a 2 year ‘tech’. And in reality how many corporate memoes are written like term paper.

  17. SeattleSeven says:

    Given the level of experienced candidates that are unemployed and (one would assume) will to work for less, is this unexpected?

  18. mbuki_dru says:

    Considering that the employers of recent grads say that recent grads are less professional, have an increased sense of entitlement, are less focused, have poor time management skills, mediocre work ethic, and are chronically tardy, maybe they should be glad it’s only 8-11%.

    Here’s a scary study on professionalism in the workplace.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Have you compared past years? Every generation complains about the next one. I walk through the mall griping about the annoying 16 year olds. People my parents age are griping about everyone my age (20s). Could it be that the immaturity is inherent to a group of people who are all entering a new life situation together and may show a bit of immaturity? I’m definitely a lot more professional now than I was at 22. I also know a lot more, have more experience, and am more confident in my abilities.

      I suspect that if there are other studies available, it might be the case that every graduating class is called immature, unprofessional, etc.

      • exconsumer says:

        There’s also the ‘other people’ phenomenon. When asked about the next generation in general, the older generations always talks about the next in terms of entitlement, lack of skill, and laziness. But if you were to ask them about their own children (maybe even their children’s friends) you’d hear an entirely different story. . . . a study framed in that way would no doubt show the younger generations to be a race of superhumans.

        And really, we as a culture did not make a habit of educating our children en masse until the last hundred years or so . . . it’s not surprising that each new generation is less easily cowed by, and therefore more threatening to, the preceding generation.

    • crazydavythe1st says:

      It’s scary to qualify what you linked to as a “study”.


      Relatively Recent College Grad

  19. Matthew PK says:

    Perhaps if Uncle Sam was directly increasing the costs of school, promoting that people “need” it and encouraging indebtedness there would be better balance.

    But, alas, a huge player with “bottomless” pockets has decided that they are going to fund college and continue to do so as their own artificial demand causes prices to climb.

  20. deniseb says:

    I see that the men are still starting off straight out of college making 13% more than the women, and no one even comments on that.

  21. East_Coast_Midwesterner says:

    Personally, I think a college degree is only semi-valuable unless it is targeted to a specific profession or skill set.

    The most difficult task in the exercise is finding the job area that gets you excited. Then finding what skills are required.

    I made literally one fifth of my current salary in 2006 right out of undergrad with a lib arts BA in. Then I found a space that was interesting and dedicated my time to learning the skills and recieved a Masters. I am one of the few that actually loves what I do and am very stable in my current role with opportunities for growth.

    Skills, Skills, Skills. Nothing else matters