Across all age and race groups, Americans holding at least a bachelor's degree increased last year to 30.4 percent; that's up from less than 25 percent in 1998 and just 5 percent in 1940. While younger women 25-29 are more likely than young men to complete college, 36 percent to 28 percent, across all age groups women still lag men slightly, 30 percent to 31 percent.
William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who reviewed the data, said the latest trends show the senior population will be "a major player in the labor force of the future."
"The fact that a substantial segment of today's older workers are more educated and experienced accounts for their taking fewer employment hits," he said. "It suggests the wisdom of formulating government policies and incentives to keep these well-educated seniors in the labor force beyond the traditional retirement age of 65."
—Employment among young adults 16-29 was 55.3 percent as of 2010, compared with 67.3 percent in 2000; it's the lowest since the end of World War II. In contrast, employment rates for those 55 and older increased over the last decade. Labor force participation rates also jumped eight percentage points over the last decade for Americans ages 55-74, from 42.5 percent to 50.6 percent, while rates for younger age groups declined.
—By race and ethnicity, 50 percent of Asian-Americans ages 25 and older had at least a bachelor's degree. That's compared with 34 percent for non-Hispanic whites, 20 percent for blacks and 14 percent for Hispanics. While most age and race groups saw increases in college attainment from the previous year, one notable exception was Hispanic males 25-29: their share slipped from 10.8 percent to 9.6 percent.
—Men who held a bachelor's degree (but no advanced degree) had average earnings of $70,000; for women, it was $45,000.
—People with a bachelor's degree had lower rates of unemployment than those with less education in every month from January 2008 to December 2010. Unemployment rate for those who lacked a high school diploma reached a peak of 17.9 percent in February 2010; in the same month, unemployment for people with a bachelor's degree reached a high of 5.9 percent.
—People whose highest level of education completed was high school had average earnings of $31,000 in 2010. For those whose highest degree was a bachelor's degree, the average was $58,000.
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