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On the Aug. 15, 2010, edition of ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour, Laura Tyson -- who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers and the National Economic Council under President Bill Clinton -- broke down the nation's unemployment rates in a striking fashion.
Tyson, who now teaches in the Haas School of Business at the University of California (Berkeley), highlighted the significantly lower unemployment rates of Americans with college diplomas and advanced degrees, in contrast to the overall rate.
"We have to worry about the longer-run problem of this structural employment," Tyson said, "because I'm going to point out one thing for this discussion. ... Unemployment for those with college educations is now 4.5 percent. Unemployment for those with more than a college education, below 4 percent. We have a problem of education in this country, and we have to educate more of our young people fully through college education. Let's take this as an opportunity to do that."
We wondered whether her numbers were right, given that the national unemployment rate for all workers in July was 9.5 percent -- more than twice as high as the figures Tyson mentioned. (Separately, PolitiFact Texas looked at a similar claim by President Barack Obama.)
We looked at the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which calculates the national unemployment rate as well as unemployment rates for various subgroups. Those subgroups include Americans of four specific educational attainment levels. They are: less than a high school diploma; a high school diploma but no college; some college experience but no college diploma; and a college diploma.
For those with less than a high school diploma, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 13.8 percent during July. For those with a high school diploma but no college, the rate was 10.1 percent. For those with some college experience but no college diploma, the rate was 8.3 percent. And for those with an undergraduate degree or better, the rate was 4.5 percent. That's less than one-third of the rate for high-school dropouts -- and it's exactly as Tyson said it was.
What about the unemployment rate for those with more than a college education? Economists we spoke to said that BLS doesn't regularly publish that statistic, though it can be calculated by labor and employment experts from the raw data BLS releases.
Tyson didn't return our inquiry, but we checked with BLS directly, and they gave us three relevant statistics for July -- the unemployment rate for those with masters' degrees; those with professional degrees, such as law degrees; and those with doctorates.
These aren't exactly comparable, since BLS does not release seasonally adjusted figures for those with advanced degrees. But we'll provide them anyway. The unadjusted July rate for those with masters' degrees was 4.9 percent. For those with professional degrees, it was 2.0 percent, and for those with doctorates, it was 1.9 percent.
We calculated the overall unemployment rate for all three categories using proper weighting and found that the rate was slightly above 4.0 percent. That's not "below 4 percent," as Tyson said it was, but it's very close.
In addition, the June 2010 BLS unemployment rate for those with more than a college degree is 3.3 percent. If Tyson was intending to use those statistics (which, once again, are not seasonally adjusted), she'd be correct -- but those aren't the most current figures.
So, Tyson was right about the unemployment rate for college graduates and at worst, she was close on the unemployment rate for those with more than a college education. On balance, we rate her statement Mostly True.
Laura Tyson, comments in an interview on ABC's This Week with Christiane Amanpour, Aug. 15, 2010
Bureau of Labor Statistics, main query page for unemployment statistics, accessed Aug. 16, 2010
E-mail interview with James Marschall Borbely, economist with the Division of Labor Force Statistics at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Aug. 16, 2010
E-mail interview with Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Aug. 16, 2010
E-mail interview with Heidi Shierholz and Kathryn Edwards, economists with the Economic Policy Institute, Aug. 16, 2010
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