, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 371-399
Date: 09 Oct 2012

What Does a High School Diploma Get You? Employment, Race, and the Transition to Adulthood

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We compare the employment of African American and white youth as they transition to adulthood from age 18 to 22, focusing on high school graduates and high school dropouts who did not attend college. Using OLS and hazard models, we analyze the relative employment rates, and employment consistency, stability, and timing, controlling for a number of factors including family income, academic aptitude, prior work experience, and neighborhood poverty. We find white high school graduates work significantly more than all other youth on most measures; African American high school graduates work as much and sometimes less than white high school dropouts; African American dropouts work significantly less than all other youth. Findings further suggest that the improved labor market participation associated with a high school diploma is higher over time for African Americans than for white youth.

We are extremely grateful to Harry Holzer, Margaret Simms and Ajay Chaudry, and our anonymous reviewers for helpful feedback on earlier drafts. We would also like to thank Jennifer Macomber and Michael Pergamit for motivating our research through their leadership on a companion research project using the 1997 NLSY. The study was supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation through the Urban Institute’s Low Income Working Families project. The findings and conclusions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Annie E Casey Foundation, or the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its sponsors.