Unemployment and Education Snobs

Steve Rattner presented another interesting set of charts on Morning Joe yesterday.  The charts showed how the unemployment rate and average pay are related to educational attainment.  This is an uncontroversial topic for labor economists; when workers lack marketable skills unemployment is a likely outcome.  For many jobless workers chronic unemployment will continue until they acquire more training and/or education.

The following chart caught my eye.  The current unemployment rate of workers with less than a high school diploma is over 14%, and much higher than the rate for more educated workers.

After seeing this chart and others like it, the guests and hosts on Morning Joe took the easy route and derided Rick Santorum’s comments about education snobs.  I would have been much more interested in a discussion of the following facts:

  • The unemployment rate is 17.6% for native-born men age 25 to 64 with less than a high school diploma.
  • The unemployment rate is 9.8% for foreign-born men age 25 to 64 with less than a high school diploma.
  • Foreign-born men account for 57% of the employment of men age 25 to 64 with less than a high school diploma.

Most unskilled jobs that do not require a high school diploma are now held by immigrants.  About 2 of 3 employed male immigrants who lack a high school diploma were born in Mexico and more than 5 of 6 are from either Mexico or Latin America.

Workers without a high school diploma have a difficult time finding a job and many of the available jobs are unpleasant and involve manual labor.  Although immigrants from Mexico and Latin America are typically less educated than American workers and face language barriers, they have lower unemployment rates than workers who were born and educated in the United States.  This is an indictment of our education system and our opportunities for vocational training.  It’s time to address our poor record of educating and training the next generation of workers, especially for students who are unlikely to receive a college diploma.

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