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Before you read this you should know that I am a faculty member teaching graduate students, so as they say in the sports metaphors of the big money people, I have some “skin in the game.”  But I am not feathering my nest, for it happens to be true now and likely to be even more so in the future, that if you hold a graduate degree, you are less likely to be unemployed and get paid significantly more than if you did not. Here’s the data:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010 Current Population Survey All earnings for over 25 year-old full-time workers only

The best degree to hold in economic terms (security and income) is a professional degree, an MS or an MBA, targeted to a particular profession –accounting, administration or health.With one of those degrees you make just as much as a Ph. D. and do not have to do that pesky empirically valid research project or write a dissertation the size of War and Peace which might involve engaging in both, war and peace. Your unemployment rate is about 2.3% and you make $1,529.00 weekly.

A run-of-the-mill MA, say from a top online Master’s degree program,will make your unemployment rate 3.9 (half the national rate for over 25 years olds – 7.9%) and will earn you an average of $1,257.00. Not bad. A BA will place more of you closer to the unemployment window (5.2%) and will earn you 20% less ($1,025.00).

This does not apply to all fields. An MS in almost all of the Health Sciences will nearly guarantee you a job and pay you more for each hour you spent in class or doing homework than just about anything else.

A Ph. D. in English, the weakest of the employment and salary categories, is likely to get you a job twice as easily as a BS in Business, but it will pay you about half as much. That’s right, a 22 year old with a BS in Business working at your average entry-level job for that category is likely to be making twice as much as a 28-year old, newly minted Ph.D., working as an Assistant Professor. And the Business major had at least 5 years of income ahead of the Ph.D.

But if you have a BA or a BS and you are in a “career” and by that I mean have a job in an area of the economy that is likely to be here for a while, you should look into graduate school.

Your situation is good now and is likely to get better. The Baby Boomer’s retirement over the next decade is likely to produce around 10 million new jobs a whole bunch of which will require a graduate degree. I can’t see that far into the future but I can see farther if I Iook back.

Here’s the data for that.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Civilian noninstitutional population by age, education (2009)

As you can see above, from 1988 to 1998 the number of Americans aged 65-74 increased by 413,000. Of those 10% remained employed full-time in 1998, but the other 90% moved to the Sun Belt and started drawing social security. Of those about 8,260 had a graduate degree. Universities had no trouble replacing them.

From 1998 to 2008 the number of Americans aged 65-74 increased 1,934,000, that’s 4.68 times more than the decade before. This demographic phenomena not only took Social Security and Medicare projections back to the drawing board, but it increased the number of those with a graduate degree 11.7 times to 96,700. So far, so good, universities can still produce enough new ones to cover the need, but largely because 20% of them were still working at 74.

But in the decade when I will enter the group, from 2008 to 2018 the number of Americans aged 65-74 is projected to increase by 9,987,000 (that’s 5.16 times greater than the decade before) and those with a graduate degree are expected to be 499,350 but only 30% of those are expected to be working, leaving us about 350,000 jobs once filled by people with a graduate degree who have retired.

This level of production (depending on discipline of course) is nearly impossible to replace given our current graduate production numbers. Therefore, not only will we need more people willing to enroll in graduate programs, we need more graduate programs.

Very many people pursue graduate work because they enjoy the challenge these provide and have little or no expectation that their degree will increase their salary or make them more employable, but it will nonetheless. If you are one of those, lucky you, you can have your cake and eat it too.