The Labor Force Behaviors, Labor Market Experiences, and Labor Market Outcomes of the Nation’s Adults with No Post-Secondary Education, 2000-2010: Differences in Outcomes Between High School Dropouts, GED Holders, and High School Graduates

This resource analyzes the financial outcomes of several socioeconomic groups: high school dropouts, GED holders, and high scohol graduates. 

Andrew Sum
Ishwar Khatiwada
Joseph McLaughlin
Mykhaylo Trubskyy
Sheila Palma
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages

Over the past few decades in the U.S., individual labor market and social success have become increasingly associated with the educational attainment and occupational attachment of the nation’s adult population. The gaps in employment wages, and earnings between the nation’s best and less well-educated adults, on average, have widened considerably over time. Still, even for those adults who do not go on to complete some years of post-secondary schooling, the personal economic benefits of remaining in high school through graduation or obtaining a GED certificate remain quite substantive.

This paper tracks the labor market behaviors and key labor market outcomes of the nation’s adults (16 and older) with no post-secondary schooling over the past decade from 2000 through 2010. The report focuses on the labor market behaviors and experiences of those adults who are high school dropouts (9 to 12 years of schooling but no regular high school diploma or GED certificate), those who obtained a GED certificate, and those who obtained a regular high school diploma but did not complete any years of post-secondary schooling. It compares both the labor market outcomes of high school dropouts with those of GED holders and those of regular high school graduates with those of GED holders. Do GED holders achieve significantly better labor market outcomes than high school dropouts? Do these differences vary across time (2000-2010), across key demographic and geographic subgroups, and across different labor market outcomes? How well do GED holders fare in the labor market in comparison to their peers with regular high school diplomas? Do differences between these two groups’ labor market outcomes vary over time or across demographic and geographic subgroups? This paper is designed to provide answers to these key public policy research questions.

The bulk of the findings in this report are based on two sources of data. The primary source of data is based on the findings of the monthly Current Population Survey, a national household survey which is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The second source of data is the American Community Survey (ACS) for 2010. The ACS is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Research findings on a wide array of labor market behaviors and outcomes show that high school graduates and GED holders do significantly better in the labor market than high school dropouts. Therefore, public policy efforts to boost the high school graduation rates of today’s students and provide them with improved access to jobs, training, and some post-secondary education should be actively promoted in every state and city.

Benefits and Uses

This paper is designed to provide answers to key public policy research questions.

What the experts say

The reviewer mentioned four points for concern:

1. The audience for the report would be limited to strictly researchers. Is it LINCS’ goal to reproduce all research reports on adult education or only those with some broader applicability?

2. The data is 5 to 10 years old and is heavily influenced by economic conditions at that time.

3. The adult education world with Bridges training and changing ESL focuses is quite different than it was at that time.

4. GED will no longer be the only measure of other than high school completion.

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