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Why it can seem like a college degree isn't worth it, in one chart

Maybe the biggest jobs story of the recovery has been the plight of the long-term unemployed. The CBO on Tuesday released figures breaking down exactly who is in this group. And one set of numbers in particular says a lot about the perennial debate over whether college is "worth it."

The report shows that while people with four-year degrees make up a small share of the long-term unemployed, they also make up around twice the share that they did in March 2007, before the downturn.

Long-term unemployment education

There's ample evidence that a college degree makes you more employable: aside from the above chart (which shows bachelor's degree holders make up only 15 percent of the long-term unemployed, compared to 53 percent of people with high school diplomas or less) the latest jobs report also showed bachelor's holders have an unemployment rate of 2.9 percent. By comparison, high school dropouts are at 8.4 percent, and high-school grads are at 5.3 percent.

But there are both far more long-term unemployed people today than 7 years ago — there were 3.7 million in March, to be exact, compared to 1.2 million before the downturn — and there's a nearly twice-as-great chance that any given long-term unemployed person has a four-year diploma now. And as any recent college graduate can tell you, a college diploma is no guarantee of a job. So compared to when the economy was healthier, college degrees can feel like a waste. But the truth remains that they still make getting a job far easier.

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