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Recovery's no recovery for wages

Money in the pocket

Kai Ryssdal: There was yet another story today that forces one to ask this question. Recovery? What recovery?

A study based on recent census numbers (PDF) says household incomes have fallen more since the recession ended than they did during the recession. And how well you did economically may depend on your education level. But beware, this is one of those stories that comes with a twist.

From our Education Desk at WYPR in Baltimore, Marketplace's Amy Scott reports.


Amy Scott: In the two years since the recession technically ended in June 2009, median household income fell more than 6.5 percent, counting inflation. That's more than twice the decline during the recession.

John Coder with Sentier Research is one of the report's authors.

John Coder: As consumer prices have started to increase a little bit faster, you end up with a decline in purchasing power.

Millions of people being out of work much longer also knocked down income. Not surprisingly, people with a bachelor's degree or higher fared better than those with less education. But here's what is surprising: People with just a few years of college -- a two-year associate's degree -- saw their income decline more than 11 percent since the recession ended. More than twice as much as someone who didn't even finish high school.

Anthony Carnevale: The reason people who haven't finished high school don't get hit quite so hard is because they don't have as far to fall. Their earnings are fairly stable whether there's a recession or not.

Anthony Carnevale directs Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce. He says a lot of people get associate's degrees in general education, hoping to transfer to a four-year college.

Carnevale: But most of them don't end up getting the bachelor's degree.

So they're not prepared for any specific job. Then again, he says people who have an associate's degree with a career focus -- like health care or engineering technicians -- have fared better than the average person with a bachelor's. It all depends on what you study.

I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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