(Reprinted from the March 2012 issue of GradEdge)
Individuals with graduate degrees will be in growing demand over the next several years, according to new employment projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These projections are part of BLS’ biennial examination of expected long-term changes in employment by occupation, industry, level of education, and demographics. The data provide a comprehensive outlook of employment in the United States through 2020.
According to BLS’ projections, the number of jobs typically requiring a doctorate or a professional degree for entry is projected to increase by 20% between 2010 and 2020, and the number typically requiring a master’s degree for entry is expected to grow by 22% (Sommers & Franklin, 2012). These rates of increase exceed the overall 14% growth projected for all occupations between 2010 and 2020 and also exceed the gains expected for individuals with lower levels of educational attainment. As shown in Figure 1, the number of jobs typically requiring a bachelor’s degree for entry is expected to increase by 17% between 2010 and 2020, and the number of jobs typically requiring an associate’s degree for entry is expected to increase by 18%.
Overall, employment in the United States is projected to grow from nearly 143.1 million jobs in 2010 to more than 163.5 million in 2020, an increase of nearly 20.5 million jobs (Sommers & Franklin, 2012). About 877,000 of these new jobs will typically require a doctorate or a professional degree for entry, and about 431,000 will typically require a master’s degree for entry.
In addition to the new jobs that are expected to be created between 2010 and 2020, job openings will also occur due to replacement needs resulting from current workers who retire, leave the labor force, or move to other occupations. When replacement needs and job growth are taken into account, a total of about 2.6 million job openings typically requiring an advanced degree for entry are expected to occur between 2010 and 2020 (Sommers & Franklin, 2012). Of these jobs, 1.7 million will typically require a doctorate or a professional degree for entry, and 900,000 will typically require a master’s degree for entry.
Between 2010 and 2020, many of the occupations in which employment is expected to grow rapidly will be in health care, personal services, and social services (Lockard & Wolf, 2012). Some of the occupations with the largest projected percentage growth in jobs typically do not require an advanced degree for entry, but six of these occupations typically do. Those occupations include marriage and family therapists, with a 41.2% projected increase in jobs between 2010 and 2020; physical therapists (37.7%); audiologists (36.8%); medical scientists (36.4%); mental health counselors (36.3%); and veterinarians (35.9%).
In addition to presenting data on the occupations with the largest projected percentage growth in jobs, BLS also lists occupations with the largest projected numeric growth in jobs. Postsecondary teachers made this list of the occupations with the largest projected numeric growth in jobs between 2010 and 2020, appearing at number 10 on the list, with an expected 17% increase, from about 1.8 million jobs in 2010 to 2.1 million in 2020. All of the other occupations with larger projected numeric growth in jobs typically require lower levels of educational attainment than a graduate degree.
The health care and social assistance sector is expected to be the leader in employment growth between 2010 and 2020, with an average projected annual gain of 3.0% (Henderson, 2012). Educational services and professional and business services are also expected to show strong growth in employment, with projected annual gains of 2.3% and 2.1%, respectively. Some industry sectors are expected to experience declines in employment between 2010 and 2020. Leading that list is the federal government, in which BLS projects that employment will decrease by about 1.3% annually on average, falling from nearly 3.0 million employees in 2010 to about 2.6 million in 2020, with much of this decline the result of a projected reduction in jobs at the postal service.
Between 2010 and 2020, the U.S. labor force is projected to continue to age, in large part because the baby-boom generation will be 56 to 74 years old in 2020 (Toossi, 2012). Individuals 55 years of age and older are expected to account for about 25% of the civilian labor force in 2020, up from 20% in 2010 and just 13% in 2000. In contrast, individuals 25 to 54 years old are expected to account for 64% of the civilian labor force in 2020, down from 67% in 2010 and 71% in 2000.
The U.S. labor force will also become more diverse in the coming years, with a slight increase in the number of women in the labor force and a larger gain in the number of minorities (Toossi, 2012). Women are expected to account for 47% of the civilian labor force in 2020, a minimal increase from 46.7% in 2010 and 46.5% in 2000. As shown in Figure 2, Hispanics and Asians are expected to account for a larger share of the civilian labor force in 2020 than they do today, while the White, non-Hispanic share is projected to continue to decline. These changing demographics of the U.S. labor force reflect the rapidly growing Hispanic population in the United States.
The BLS data suggest robust growth in employment for individuals with graduate degrees, but the employment projections actually underestimate the number of graduate degree recipients in the labor force. BLS’ projections focus on the level of educational attainment that is typically required for entry into an occupation, even though many employees in that occupation may have more advanced degrees. Teachers and engineers are two prime examples of this. Both occupations are classified as typically requiring a bachelor’s degree for entry, even though many teachers and engineers hold graduate degrees. For example, 28% of civil engineers and 51% of secondary school teachers have a master’s degree, a doctorate, or a professional degree (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). This means that while 2.6 million new and replacement jobs requiring an advanced degree for entry are expected between 2010 and 2020, many more individuals with graduate degrees will enter the labor force in the coming years.
The employment growth projected by BLS reflects the demands of an aging population as the baby-boom generation heads into retirement. Health-related occupations dominate the list of the fastest growing occupations, while projected growth in other occupations, such as postsecondary teachers, reflects the impending retirements of baby-boomers. As the labor market recovers from the recession and continues to grow over the coming years, BLS projects strong demand in employment opportunities for individuals with graduate degrees, good news indeed for today’s graduate students.
By Nathan E. Bell, Director, Research and Policy Analysis, Council of Graduate Schools
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). Educational attainment for workers 25 years and older by detailed occupation, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_111.htm
Henderson, R. (2012). Industry employment and output projections to 2020. Monthly Labor Review Online, 135(1), 65–83. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/01/
Lockard, C. B., & Wolf, M. (2012). Occupational employment projections to 2020. Monthly Labor Review Online, 135(1), 84–108. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/01/
Sommers, D., & Franklin, J. C. (2012). Overview of projections to 2020. Monthly Labor Review Online, 135(1), 3–20. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/01/
Toossi, M. (2012). Labor force projections to 2020: A more slowly growing workforce. Monthly Labor Review Online, 135(1), 43–64. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2012/01/
As the national advocate for graduate education, CGS serves as a resource for policymakers and others on issues concerning graduate education, research, and scholarship. Based in Washington, DC, the organization provides its members with regular updates and analyses of legislative and regulatory proposals and policies that affect graduate education.
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