Report: More than half of Grand Rapids labor force has no college degree

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According to a report by Self Financial, 61.3% of the labor force in the Grand Rapids-Wyoming metro area does not have a bachelor’s degree.

The total percentage of full-time workers in the United States with less than a bachelor’s degree is 37.7%.

Undergraduate enrollment has been on the decline, decreasing 8% between 2010-18, per the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics explains that generally the higher the level of education, the better positioned someone is to find better employment opportunities.

In 2019, the overall unemployment rate was 3%, but that number was only 2.2% for college graduates, 2% for master’s degree holders and 1.1% for those with a doctorate.

Similarly, the report stated that individuals with an undergraduate or advanced degree have significantly higher earnings than those without.

While the median annual earnings for full-time workers across all education levels in 2019 was $39,810, for bachelor’s degree holders it was $64,896, and the median salary for both doctoral and professional degree holders was nearly six figures.

Despite the increased advantage in career opportunities for those with degrees, the cost of education has been a deterrent for most.

The total outstanding student loan debt currently sits at $1.54 trillion, second only to mortgage debt. In addition, the delinquency rate on student loans was nearly 11% in the first quarter of 2020 — the highest rate across all loan types tracked by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Even if degree holders stand to earn more after graduation, the difference is not sufficient to cover loan payments for many borrowers.

Amid COVID-19, some uncertainties loom over whether it’s possible to have a lucrative career without a four-year degree.

However, the report stated many jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree pay roughly two to three times more than the national median of $39,810 per year.


The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections Report. Salary and employment data are for 2019. Employment projections were made by the BLS prior to 2020 and reflect the 10 years from 2018-28.

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