At the end of the third quarter of 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median weekly earnings for U.S. wage and salary workers was $758. And it reported that the U.S. had 103.6 million full-time wage and salary workers. Self-employed people are not included in these statistics.
Within the data provided by the bureau are various segments of the overall reported U.S. work force. One portion of the report breaks down the wages earned by the amount of education reported by those surveyed. For this analysis, the bureau focused on those who are 25 or older.
A total of just under 94 million salary and wage earning workers are reported to be 25 or older in the U.S. Median weekly earnings were reported to be $803, or $45 more per week than the overall median.
Median weekly earnings for those reporting a high school diploma but no college education was $648, which totals about $33,700 per year assuming 52 weeks of earnings. Of the 94 million workers in this portion of the overall survey, 25.7 million, or just over 27 percent, report having a high school diploma but no college education.
The bureau said 22.8 million workers reported having a bachelor's degree. Weekly median earnings for this group was $1,071, which over 52 weeks totals about $55,700. Having a bachelor's degree and earning the median reported wage represents an annual increase in earnings of $22,000 above the median earned by those holding only a high school diploma.
The next educational attainment category reported by the bureau is those reporting to have some sort of advanced college degree, in addition to already having a bachelor's degree. A median weekly wage reported for this segment of the overall 94 million workers was $1,381. This weekly wage translates into a yearly median income of just over $71,800, or $16,100 more per year than those reporting only a bachelor's degree. The bureau said 12.7 million wage earning workers reported holding some sort of advanced college degree.
While getting a college education and possibly an advanced degree require time, expense and significant effort, the wage and earnings statistics indicate those who do achieve these levels of education will generally be incrementally rewarded for their efforts. Viewed over the average working career of something close to 40 years, the investment in higher education makes financial sense.
Kirby Brown is the CEO of Beneficial Financial Group in Salt Lake City.