National Unemployment Rate Steady, But Those Without A High School Diploma Still Struggle

Employment Policies Institute Points to Consequences of Minimum Wage Hikes
  • Publication Date: April 2010

  • Topics: Minimum Wage

WASHINGTON, DC – New data released today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show the country’s employment situation stabilizing, with 162,000 jobs created and the nation’s jobless rate holding steady at 9.7 percent. However, the employment situation for some is still grim.

For Americans without a high school diploma, the unemployment rate remains significantly higher than the national average, at 14.5 percent.

Department of Education data show that 45 percent of those without a diploma lack the basic literacy skills needed to fill out a job application. Federal and state increases in the minimum wage – like the 40 percent increase between July 2007 and July 2009 – have priced many less-educated Americans out of the workforce.

“Minimum wage hikes have created a new glass ceiling that keeps these Americans from finding that all-important first job,” said Michael Saltsman, research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute (EPI). “A minimum wage rollback might ruffle partisan sensibilities, but it’s a great way to get less-educated individuals with low literacy levels out of unemployment lines and into the workforce.”

An EPI analysis of BLS data shows that, between 1998 and 2007, those without a high school diploma spent an average 154 more days unemployed than their counterparts with a diploma. Compared to those with a bachelor’s degree, those lacking a high school diploma spent an average 315 additional days unemployed.

“The rising tide hasn’t lifted all boats,” Saltsman concluded. “The job prospects for Americans who are less-educated or functionally illiterate remain poor, even as the economy improves.”