By Genaro C. Armas
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - More U.S. residents than ever have high school and college diplomas, although rates still vary greatly by race and ethnicity, the Census Bureau says.
Among those 25 and older last year, 84.6 percent had graduated from high school, up from 84.1 percent the previous year, according to bureau estimates being released Tuesday.
The share of people with at least a bachelor's degree from college also inched up, from 26.7 percent to 27.2 percent, continuing a decades-long rise.
Though educational levels have risen for blacks and Hispanics, both ethnic groups still trail whites in most categories.
More than 89 percent of whites had graduated from high school, compared with 80 percent of blacks and 57 percent of Hispanics.
Data going back at least a decade show a narrowing of the disparity between whites and blacks, although such figures aren't precisely comparable due to changes in the way the Census Bureau tracked race and ethnic data, said bureau statistician Nicole Stoops.
In 1993, 84 percent of whites were high school graduates, along with 70 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Latinos.
Nearly 88 percent of Asians are high school graduates, but there was no historical data available from the bureau.
Meanwhile, the influx into the United States of lesser-educated Latino immigrants over the past decade has in large part kept the overall rate for Hispanics lower, said Deborah Reed, an economist at the Public Policy Institute of California, a San Francisco-based research group.
That's evidence that many of the Hispanic immigrants who arrived in the United States in recent years in their middle-to-late teens bypassed school to get jobs, Reed said.
The data, part of the Census Bureau's annual look at educational attainment, come from a survey conducted from February to April 2003.
Nearly 50 percent of Asians hold a college degree or more, compared with 30 percent of whites, 17 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics.
Comparably educated whites still made slightly more money, with median earnings of $45,600, compared with $45,400 for Asians, $40,000 for blacks and $37,000 for Hispanics.
National median earnings for someone with a college degree, regardless of race, was $44,000.
The figures for "white" refer to those who are not of Hispanic ethnicity. Since the government considers "Hispanic" an ethnicity and not a race, people of Hispanic descent can be of any race.
By sex, slightly more women than men have high school or high school equivalency degrees, 85 percent to 84 percent. About 29 percent of men and 26 percent of women have college degrees, both records.
Women have narrowed that gap dramatically over the last two decades as younger, more educated women slowly replace older, less-educated women in the work force, the Census Bureau's Stoops said.
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