The United States does not currently invest heavily in vocational training compared with other countries, and funding for vocational training has declined over the past decades. The United States spends less than 0.05 percent of its gross domestic product on vocational training opportunities for workers.
While social mobility and economic opportunity are important aspects of the American ethos, the data suggest they are more myth than reality. In fact, a child’s family income plays a dominant role in determining his or her future income, and those who start out poor are likely to remain poor. This figure shows the chances that a child’s future earnings will place him in the lowest the or the highest quintile depending on where his parents fell in the distribution (from left to right on the figure, the lowest, middle, and highest quintiles).
Many workers can benefit substantially from worker training programs, which provide education and skill development that lead to increased economic opportunities and better jobs. Students who earn two-year degrees in a high-return field, four-year degrees after a two-year degree, or certain career-oriented certificates, earn median salaries of $34,000 or more per year. Students who earn two-year degrees in low-return fields or who do not complete their programs earn around 33 percent less.
College education has historically driven increases in labor productivity, which in turn lead to wage growth. This same trend has emerged during the last 40 years. As women’s college-graduation rates jumped over 20 percentage points since 1970 , female workers’ wages increased by similarly high rates.
Despite widespread claims that a college degree is no longer worth the rising price of tuition, a bachelor’s degree still has about the same return on investment today as it did in the 80s. College still pays for itself, and then some; it will earn you, on average, a 16 percent return, which is a higher rate of return than on investments in the stock market (6.8 percent), corporate bonds (2.9 percent), gold (2.3 percent), long-term government bonds (2.2 percent), or housing (0.4 percent).
Retraining in technical fields provides higher returns for workers than retraining in non-technical classes.