Cory Stahle, Regional Economist
Several of our past blog posts have highlighted the statewide education levels of Utah; however, little has been written about the educational makeup of counties and regions. The 2014 American Community Survey (ACS), released December 2015, provides data that profiles education levels by county. This article will focus primarily on the Mountainland Region and its counties.
Understanding educational attainment for an area is important for two reasons. First, it is generally acknowledged that obtaining higher education yields increased income. This increase can then improve living standards and aid in long-term economic growth. Second, education is both a product and driver of the types of jobs available. A highlight of the educational characteristics in the Mountainland Region follows.
According to the 2014 ACS, 38 percent of individuals 25 years and older held a bachelor’s degree or higher in the region. Of the four counties included, this category was the highest in Summit County at 50 percent and the lowest in Juab County at 16 percent. Utah and Wasatch counties fell near the average with 37 and 34 percent respectively. When compared in the graphic below, all counties are above national and state averages for bachelor’s and higher except Juab. Lack of employer demand for workers with advanced education is one possible explanation for the bachelor’s degree lag in Juab County.
Within the population, the ACS distinguishes between those who are in the labor force and those who are not. The labor force includes both individuals who are employed and those who are unemployed but would like to work. As seen below, the labor force share of individuals who have attended and/or graduated from college is larger than the nation or state. Conversely, individuals with a high school education or less account for a smaller proportion of the region’s total labor force relative to the other geographies.
When broken down by gender and age, the region mirrors national trends. In line with the nation, females in younger generations are narrowing gender gaps in college graduation rates. Among individuals aged 65 and over in the region, the share of males with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 23 percentage-points above females. This gap in shares narrows to 11 percentage-points for the 45-to-64-year-old category, and 9 points in the 35-to-44-age range. The trend is most evident between the ages of 25 and 34 where the female share equals that of males (see table below).
Despite this trend, median income for females is half that of males across all education levels for the region. This gap in the earnings data may be caused by a collection of factors outside of gender alone. One factor may be the choice of women to work lower paying, part-time jobs in favor of flexibility. At the state level, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that nearly 35 percent of all female employees work part time. Of those working part-time, a BLS survey found that fewer than 10 percent would prefer full-time employment instead. A second factor stems from the methodology of the ACS data, which includes all individuals with any earnings, even if they are low. For example, a stay-at-home mother may participate in direct sales of herbal oils and receive $2,000 a year in income. These earnings are then included in the calculation for all females and contribute to lowering the median income statistic.
One final highlight from the ACS is the relationship between education, jobs and unemployment. Region-wide, the estimated unemployment rate for less-than-high-school graduates is 10 percent. In contrast, this number falls to 4 percent for individuals with bachelor’s degrees and above. Similarly, Utah County shows a smooth decrease in unemployment rates as the level of education increases.
In contrast, Wasatch County unemployment rates are lower among high school graduates than recipients of a bachelor’s degree. In Juab County, unemployment rates between those with less than high school education and bachelor’s degrees are nearly even. These differences when compared to the region, may arise from sampling errors (due to the small county size) and industry differences. In general, urban areas have a stronger concentration of jobs requiring advanced degrees than rural areas. If individuals in rural areas with advanced degrees choose not to commute, they may have more of a challenge finding employment.
For additional information on educational attainment see the interactive visual below.