Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Business

Widening economic gap shows rising costs of not going to college

The CEOs of Duke Energy Florida and TECO Energy, the two big power companies providing electricity to most of the Tampa Bay area, share a common gripe.

It's getting tougher to find qualified young people to become linemen or fill similar good-paying jobs that are critical to running electric utilities but may not require college degrees.

In recent conversations, CEOs Alex Glenn of Duke Energy Florida and John Ramil of TECO both lament that too few job candidates are able to handle the basic math and science deemed fundamental to these jobs.

"It's a growing challenge for us, and it must be for others as well," Ramil said. Glenn echoes that sentiment, adding that critical thinking skills also are a must throughout his organization, but not easily found when hiring.

Heads up, young people. You may not like every moment of high school. And the idea of continuing on to a specialty trade, community college or four-year university may seem like too much to handle.

Well, think again.

A college education is worth more today than it used to be. There's a wider earnings gap between the college-educated and less-educated in the millennial generation — those born in the 1980s or 1990s — compared with previous generations.

A new Pew Research Center study of workers between 25 and 32 years old found those with a four-year bachelor's degree or more had annual median earnings of $45,500. That's $17,500 more than workers of the same age earned with only high school diplomas.

What's most striking is that earnings of the college educated have generally been on the rise (despite the recent recession) since the late 1970s, while earnings of those with two-year college degrees or high school diplomas are actually in decline. A high school education that now delivers a $28,000 median annual paycheck used to offer $32,299 in 1979, with figures adjusted for inflation.

And it's not just money. College-educated millennials are less likely to be unemployed and much less likely to end up in poverty than their peers with high school diplomas.

Seems obvious? But now the gaps are widening rapidly.

As the top Duke Energy Florida and TECO executives note, many jobs are becoming more sophisticated and demanding broader skills than those required of earlier generations. That includes not only decent math and tech skills, but the ability to read and write competently, as well.

Education has other perks. Millennials between 25 and 32 with college degrees are more likely to enjoy their work, more likely to get married and more likely not to live at home with their parents.

That last factoid alone should scare many to finish high school and seek more education.

Motivating high school kids to show up and do at least most of the school work asked of them might be easier if they could grasp how much their early choices may cost for the rest of their lives.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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