Last month, we had the opportunity to explore some of the latest American Community Survey data on median household earnings, and how they have changed over time both nationally and throughout California. (Earnings have largely remained constant for decades among most working families, but there are huge disparities among CA neighborhoods). In this blog post, we are using the same data source to explore the intersection between educational attainment and median personal earnings. This is a particularly important subject as educational attainment is universally acknowledged as a primary factor in eliminating generational poverty, and in human development.

Using 1-year Census estimates from the just-released Census data, we see fascinating patterns among states when analyzing earnings among those who have never completed high school, those who completed it (and equivalent), and those who have completed bachelor and graduate/professional degrees for those aged 25 and older. In the interactive national map below, we see that that median personal earnings for those without a high school diploma in 2016 was $22,952. That is approximately a 23% increase from 2005 before the Great Recession, when you adjust for inflation.

               

Among states, North Dakota particularly stands out. In 2005, median personal earnings for those without a high school diploma was $18,677 ($22,952 in 2016 dollars) compared to $29,430 in 2016. This speaks to new employment opportunities, particularly within the oil industry since 2005, such as the development of the Dakota pipeline. (We’ll refrain from the environmental impact controversies for our purposes here). Overall, we see those without high school diplomas earning more in various Western States compared to the rest of the country such as mid-West and South.

If we select the tab in the interactive map above for those who have completed a bachelor’s degree, a different portrait emerges. California ranks 6th among states at $60,121, falling slightly behind many eastern areas such as the District of Columbia, New Jersey and Connecticut who round up the top three. While California lags behind the rest of the country in high school completion rates, it is among the top nationally among those who have completed bachelor and graduate/professional degrees. This speaks to the diversity of California’s economy, being both a breadbasket to the world and high earning potential for those who have specialized expertise in computer technology, energy, engineering and more. 

Equally compelling is the neighborhood-level data within California. In looking at public use microdata areas (neighborhood clusters that have a sample size between 100,000 – 200,000 people), we see that those without a high school diploma in the community of Rancho Margarita and Ladera Ranch in Orange County earn nearly $71,000, on average. (Yes, that shocked us too)! Already one of the most affluent communities in the state, Rancho Margarita and Ladera Ranch includes a master planned community and major home associations contributing to its high average wealth. Overall, however, we see many populations without a high school diploma struggling throughout the state, especially in parts of Northern California, the Central Valley, Southern California, and dessert communities. 

               

The intersection between educational attainment and median earnings is also striking among those with bachelor’s degrees within California. In addition to the expected high earning potential for those in the Silicon Valley, we also see high earnings in neighborhood clusters such as Sanger, Reedley, and Parlier in Fresno County ($56,557), the inland region of San Luis Obispo ($58,876), and Indio, Coachella, Blythe and La Quinta in Riverside County ($61,450). The latter neighborhood cluster has experienced significant social changes over the past few years with the emergence of the Coachella music festival, indigenous-led casinos, and more.  

Our Real Cost Measure report explores median household earnings by educational attainment and the various challenges many low-income (and middle-class families) face every day. We look forward to learning more about these results when we release an updated version of our report next May. In the meantime, feel free to explore some of the latest educational and earnings data by interacting with the maps above, especially at the neighborhood level. 

TIP: To look at educational attainment and median personal earnings in your own neighborhood, click on "full screen" below the interactive maps above. Once there, press the magnifying glass on the upper left-hand corner to conduct a search, and type the name of your county or neighborhood.