Tomorrow's jobs demand higher degrees as economic fates diverge

This century has already been tough on Americans with only a high school education. The current decade is poised to add insult to injury.

The fast-declining occupations between 2016 and 2026 are those with minimal entry-level education requirements that are vulnerable to automation and other technological advances, based on a Bureau of Labor Statistics report by economist Emily Rolen. The fastest-growing fields require post-secondary education, often master’s degrees.

In fact, occupations requiring master’s degrees are expected to grow at a rate of 16.7% through 2026, versus 7.4% for all occupations. Ph.D.-requiring gigs will grow second-fastest, at 13%, followed by jobs requiring associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. Healthcare is a big reason. Many jobs in the booming sector have high education requirements, even for entry-level positions.

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To be sure, growth rates are relative: a comparatively small share of jobs required master’s degrees in 2016, so it’s easy for the group to grow quickly. But it speaks to the broader shift going on in the American workforce, one in which high-paying, skilled jobs will continue to enjoy high demand. Rolen’s analysis shows that most occupational groups destined for above-average growth over the next decade already pay more than the median wage -- and the bulk of them require a bachelor’s degree or more.

While healthcare support and personal care occupations will also grow very quickly and require just a high school education, both offer below-median pay.

Fortunately for employers and employees alike, educational attainment is improving. Nearly 48% of American adults between the ages of 25 and 34 had earned an associate’s degree or more in 2017, up from about 40% a decade earlier. Still, these trends suggest Americans’ economic fates will continue to diverge by schooling -- important in a world where such divides are already widening the economic gap between urban and rural areas and deepening political fissures.

These are long-running trends, but we’ll be able to see them coming to bear in real time this week when the Labor Department releases the January employment report on Friday. Check out Table B-1 for a breakdown of employment growth by industry.