One map shows where Americans earn the most with just a high school degree

One map shows where Americans earn the most with just a high school degree

Millions of student debt borrowers are set to see their loan balances reduced, but the cost of a college degree for future students remains as high as ever.

It's leading many Americans to explore alternative career paths.

Over the last 40 years, the price to attend a four-year college full-time has risen 180% adjusted for inflation to over $28,000. At the same time, job openings remain near record highs amid the ongoing labor shortage, a development that's produced some wage gains for workers without a degree. It's also led some employers to ease their degree requirements, making a wider range of careers accessible for high school graduates.

US Career Institute, a place where people can earn their high school diploma online, looked at Census Bureau data to see how earnings between high school graduates and non-high school graduates compare across the US.

The data comes from the 2020 5-year American Community Survey and reflects the median earnings of people who are at least 25 years old with pay in the past year.

Median earnings vary across the country for both kinds of educational attainment. For instance, in Massachusetts, high school graduates typically earn $37,929. That's $9,450 higher than their peers who aren't high school graduates in the state and the highest median earnings for this group of Americans among all US states and DC.

Across the country in California, high school graduates aged 25 and over typically earn $32,560, $7,307 more than those who aren't high school graduates in the state.

The following map shows median earnings for Americans aged 25 and older with earnings who are high school graduates, or equivalent, excluding those who have attended or graduated from college.

While Massachusetts has the highest median earnings for high school graduates, New Mexico had the smallest figure at $27,893. Non-high school graduates make even less in the state at $21,428, or a difference of $6,465.

The following map highlights the median earnings for Americans aged 25 and older with earnings who didn't graduate high school. 

As US Career Institute's analysis shows, the earnings of high school graduates in every state and DC are higher than those who didn't receive a high school diploma. Connecticut had the biggest difference between the two at $11,439. Alaska was another state with a difference of over $10,000, at $10,286.

The US Career Institute's report also highlights that having a bachelor's degree can have a significant impact on lifetime earnings, based on an analysis of people aged 25 to 64 working full-time, year-round from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The median lifetime earnings of an individual with a bachelor's degree is roughly $2.8 million, while those with only a high school degree or less earn $1.6 million and $1.2 million respectively.

"Higher levels of education do not always correspond with higher earnings, however," the authors of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report wrote. They found that roughly a third of workers with no more than a high school diploma made more than the median worker with an associate's degree.

Many Americans have found that trade schools and certifications provide a different path to the higher earnings of a four-year degree — one that won't burden them with thousands of dollars in debt. 

Jasey Tragesser, 27, previously told Insider that she dropped out of college in 2014 and began making $300-500 per month as a waitress. Today, after some hard work, alternative education, job switching, and a bit of luck, she's earning $135,000 per year as a marketing manager for a software-as-a-service company.

Tragesser still has no desire to go back to school. "College is so expensive and reasonable companies are realizing that not everybody can afford it," she said. "But there are so many smart people and so much talent they could be missing out on if they require a four-year degree."

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