Pay Scale for High School Diploma vs. Without One


It is undisputed that lacking a high school diploma can hurt a worker in terms of the salary that he can earn over his lifetime. Not having a high school diploma affects not only the individual, but also the wider community since the individual generates less revenue in taxes because he has a lower-paying job. He also has less money to spend at local businesses than if he had a job with a higher salary, which affects the economy.

Job Prospects

A worker without a high school diploma does not have access to nearly as many jobs as a person who graduated from high school. The jobs he can get are typically low paying in comparison to those that require a high school diploma. One reason why employers prefer high school graduates is that they have better basic job skills. They can read, do math and solve problems better than their non-graduate counterparts in many cases. They also typically have better work ethics.

Without Diploma

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2009 the average weekly income of an employee over 25 years of age who worked full-time and did not have a high school diploma was $454. The unemployment rate of this category of employee was 14.6 percent in the United States, compared to 7.9 percent for all workers.

With a Diploma

The average weekly income jumped to $626 for a worker over 25 years of age who had a high school diploma and who worked full-time. The unemployment rate averaged 9.7 percent for this group of workers. With just some college and no degree, the average weekly income climbed to $699 and to $761 with an associate’s degree.


The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average yearly income of a person without a high school diploma over the age of 18 is $21,023 as of 2008. The person with a high school diploma earns an average annual salary of $31,283, and with some college and no degree, the person’s income averages $32,555. With an associate’s degree, the income increases to $39,506 on average.

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