Commentary: Education Pays Off, For You and Your Community


For decades, there were higher-wage jobs in the trades that would take adults and recent high school grads without training. The “back in my day” crowd likes to tell of mill jobs that paid great wages, enough to support a family in Lewis County. And, it can sound like it’s still true when companies are offering incentives and the promise of great salaries — for now. But what happens in the long-term? What’s the plan? 

In 2020, 70 percent of workers in the U.S. were in jobs that required some education or training beyond high school, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Already, we are seeing a big change in the types of jobs available to our workforce. Jobs are increasingly automated and reliant on advanced technical training and expertise. Plus, we know that those who continue their education past high school see higher wages, less unemployment, better health care coverage and less poverty. 

According to Education Pays 2019, the unemployment rate for individuals 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree is about half of that for high school graduates. In addition, only 33 percent of workers with only a high school diploma had employer-provided health insurance. In comparison, 59 percent of workers with an associate degree and 64 percent of workers with a bachelor’s degree had employer-provided health insurance in 2018.

That same study reported that only 24 percent of those with a high school diploma earn more than $60,000 per year. That number climbs to 39 percent for those with an associate degree and 64 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree. Adults who have only a high school diploma are almost twice as likely to be living in poverty as those with an associate degree.

In July 2021, the Washington State Employment Security Department reported average hourly wages in the five-county region surrounding Lewis County. Hourly wages were 38 percent higher for those with a bachelor’s degree than for those with a high school diploma.

The employment picture here and across the U.S. has shifted dramatically in recent decades. More and more, a job that provides real economic security requires additional education and training beyond high school. That might mean a traditional bachelor’s degree, but it also includes other pathways, such as technical certificates and degrees, and apprenticeships. Some of these certifications can be earned in as little as 10 weeks.

If your day is now, it’s important to get on a pathway that will serve your whole life. That means getting a college degree or technical certification after high school and creating a future with less unemployment, better health outcomes, more income over time, and a more skilled workforce to support our economy. 


Bob Mohrbacher is president of Centralia College.