Erie Vital Signs

Educational Attainment: Median Earnings

Recent Performance

This trend is mixed or inconclusive.

First of all, it is clear that higher levels of education result in higher levels of income. Erieites with a bachelor’s degree averaged 26% higher median incomes than the average for all Erie residents in 2013, and those with more advanced degrees averaged 64% more than the Erie median.

Unfortunately, median incomes in Erie are typically below those of the peer areas, in line with what the Per Capita Income indicator (in the Economy section of Erie Vital Signs) tells us. But the median indicator lets us see if this pattern is consistent across all education levels. And it is.

While higher education typically means higher income, the returns to higher education levels are a bit less in Erie than in the peer areas. The median income for those with bachelor’s degrees in Erie was only about 86% of the median in the peer areas; for those with more advanced degrees the number was only 84%. These differences are much greater than can be accounted for by the lower cost of living in Erie. (See the Cost of Living Indicator in the Economy section of EVS.) Unfortunately, this implies that there is often a financial incentive for those with higher education levels to leave the area. Their exodus—brain drain—would clearly be bad news for Erie’s future.

Over time, these patterns have been pretty consistent, although there may be a bit of an uptrend in the return to bachelor’s degree holders compared to peer areas, and unfortunately a bit of a downtrend to holders of degrees higher than the bachelor’s level.

The Basics

This indicator reports the median income of residents over the past 12 months by various levels of education, showing the relationship between the two. The data are for residents 25 years old and over who had earnings. The median is the number with half of all incomes above it, and half of all incomes below it. It is different from the average (mean), which sums all incomes and divides by the number of people. The median is less affected than the average (mean) by a relatively few very large or very small numbers.

Why It's Important

Income is often considered the broadest measure of quality of life, and it is clear that income levels correlate highly with educational attainment.

The Details

These data come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Their data are based on a sample and are subject to sampling variability. Educational attainment data are tabulated for people 18 years old and over; median earnings data are for those 25 years of age and older. Respondents are classified according to the highest degree or the highest level of school completed. The ACS survey question included instructions for persons currently enrolled in school to report the level of the previous grade attended or the highest degree received.

The Nitty-Gritty Details

American Community Survey documentation
American Community Survey Subject Definitions


Educational attainment is broken into the following categories:
-less than a high school graduate
-high school graduate (includes equivalency)
-some college or associate’s degree
-bachelor’s degree
-graduate or professional degree

Peer Areas

These variables include data on all 13 of the standard peer areas, along with U.S. data.




American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. One-year estimates. Table S1501, Educational Attainment.

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