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U.S. College Grads See Slim-to-Nothing Wage Gains Since Recession

Petroleum engineers and philosophy majors are bucking the trend
Photographer: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The bachelor's degree — long a ticket to middle-class comfort — is losing its luster in the U.S. job market.

Wages for college graduates across many majors have fallen since the 2007-09 recession, according to an unpublished analysis by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington using Census bureau figures. Young job-seekers appear to be the biggest losers.

What you study matters for your salary, the data show. Chemical and computer engineering majors have held down some of the best earnings of at least $60,000 a year for entry level positions since the recession, while business and science graduates's paychecks have fallen. A biology major at the start of their career earned $31,000 on an annual average in 2015, down $4,000 from five years earlier.

"It has been like this for the past five, six years now," said Ban Cheah, a research professor at Georgetown who compiled the data. "It's a little depressing."

The outlook for experienced graduates, aged 35 to 54, is brighter, with wages generally stable since the crisis.

The economic premium of a bachelor's flattened after the recession, according to a 2016 National Bureau of Economic Research paper by Robert Valletta, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.