Research Allies for Lifelong Learning

What financial circumstances did high school non-completers experience? They were “working poor”, with most employed full or part time but earning less than $25,000 annually. At the same time, many (34.2%) managed to stay out of debt. High school non-completers struggled the most of any education subgroup through the economic downturn of 2007-8, with nearly half losing a job and nearly one-fourth experiencing a year or more of unemployment.

  • Half of the subgroup that did not complete high school worked full time (51%), one-eighth worked part time (12.2%), and one-fourth were unemployed (25.9%)
  • Their occupation fields tended to be in food service (19.7%), production (10.7%), transportation and moving (10.6%), or construction (10.4%)
  • They had the highest unemployment rate (25.9%) of any subgroup by education level in 2012, more than twice as high as those with a postsecondary certificate (11.8% unemployed) or associate degree (9.6% unemployed)
  • More than three-fourths (76.9%) earned less than $25,000 in 2011 – including income from their spouse or partner – and 47.2% relied on some form of public assistance, such as SSI, TANF, SNAP, or WIC
  • From 2006 to 2012, 45.2% lost a job, compared with 37.1% of those with a postsecondary certificate and 28.8% of those with an associate degree losing a job
  • When they were unemployed, they remained so for longer periods of time during 2009 to 2012 – 23.1% were unemployed for at least a year, in contrast with 12.9% of those with a postsecondary certificate and 11.4% of those with an associate degree being unemployed a year or more
  • Unlike their peers with higher levels of education, high school non-completers tended to avoid debt more often, even though their reported levels of financial stress were similar – 34.2% reported no debt, approximately twice the rate of those with a postsecondary certificate (17.8%) or associate degree (16.3%)


What adult roles did high school non-completers take on? Most of these young adults stayed close to where they originally attended high school; more than half rented their homes. They tended to be living with a partner and nearly half had at least two children.

  • High school non-completers lived in the western region of the USA at a higher rate (30.2%) than the full sample (23.9%) – they lived in the northeast proportionately less often (13.6%) than the full sample (17.5%)
  • Moreso than other education subgroups, they stayed close to home – 68.8% lived within 9 miles of their home in high school, and 19.7% within 10 to 100 miles of it
  • They were more frequently living with a partner (30.9%) than married (23.8%) and married slightly less often than other education subgroups
  • By age 26 many high school non-completers were already parents – 44.2% had two or more children, compared with 24.6% of those with a postsecondary certificate and 14.9% of those with an associate degree
  • They tended to rent a home (55.2%) or have other living arrangements, such as living with a parent or friend (34.5%)