Economy

Along with the gender and racial wage gap, income disparities may also exist within the same profession. And the education divide may be a factor.

If you’re a bartender, for example, with a Bachelor’s degree — a job that doesn’t require it — you still might earn more than a bartender without a degree. That’s according to Dewayne Matthews, vice president of strategy development at Lumina Foundation, an organization seeking to increase the number of Americans with a post-secondary degree or other recognized credential to 60 percent by 2025. Currently, a little more than 40 percent of Americans aged 25 and older hold an Associate degree.

Matthews says economic growth is dependent upon the skill level of the population.

“We’re at a knowledge economy,” he says. “And the demand for the people who have the necessary knowledge and skills is what’s really driving the economy.”

Matthews says there are two types of skills a worker might possess: general and technical. General skills include the foundational skills you learn in school: problem solving, critical thinking, abstract reasoning, among others.

“These skills don’t desert you when your industry collapses,” he says.

Technical skills, on the other hand, are particular to an occupation. Matthews says employers are willing to pay more for workers with the right blend of know-how.

“There’s something magical about the combination of general skills and technical skills,” he says. “And it’s those people who have both that are doing best in this economy.”

That may be why the commonwealth is pushing for more of its population to be educated. The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education released an accountability report earlier this month that showed how the state is doing in areas that include student success, college readiness and education attainment.

In 2013-2014, the CPE aimed for more than 37 percent of Kentucky adults ages 25-44 to acquire an Associate degree or higher. The state slightly missed the mark with 36.5 percent attainment, but that’s up nearly five percentage points from 2009. The percentage is even higher when industry-recognized certificates are included.

The CPE’s report also measured the number of degrees and credentials awarded in 2013-2014 in science, technology, engineering and math, as well as health-related fields. The goal was to award 19,350 STEM degrees in Kentucky. Over that time, the state handed out more than 21,000 STEM degrees.

“We also know that the economy continues to need more people with those degrees,” says Robert King, president of the Kentucky Council of Postsecondary Education.

Experts also say that education attainment is important for attracting and keeping employers. King says if Kentucky can’t improve those numbers, it risks losing employers.

Getting a college degree or recognized credential isn’t only good for your pockets. It also affects where you live, your health, and possibly who you vote for.

Says Dewayne Matthews, of Lumina Foundation, “It’s not a news flash anymore to note the wide disparity in people’s political attitudes in this country as reflected in the presidential campaign based on education level and how that it’s a very stark divide.”