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Do good jobs exist for those without four-year degrees?

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research sought to answer this question. While four-year degrees can easily signal the skills or level of preparation a worker might have for a job, it's harder for those who are "skilled through alternative routes," like previous jobs or experience, to signal what they know, the report says.

The researchers looked at data on skill requirements of jobs to find the gaps between a worker's current job and higher-wage jobs with similar skill requirements.

They found that, of the 16 million workers without college education but with skills for high-wage work, about 11 million are currently working in low- to middle-wage work. Five million workers without four-year degrees already have jobs that pay greater than twice the median state cohort wage, which points to the possibility for workers without degrees to move up the wage scale.

This finding could help employers, as the demand for a skilled workforce is outpacing the supply of workers with college degrees, according to the report. It could also help ease inequality between those who don't have degrees and those who do. On the flip side, it could harm workers with college degrees by crowding them out of some jobs.