U.S. has ‘strongest job market in nearly a decade,’ says Janet Yellen

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 14: Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen holds a news conference after the central bank announced an increase in the benchmark interest rate following a Federal Open Market Committee meeting December 14, 2016 in Washington, DC. With unemployment low and concern over inflation on the rise, the central bank decided to raise the federal interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point, moving from 0.25-0.50 percent to a range of 0.50 and 0.75 percent. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen sent a clear message to young Americans on Monday: Get a college degree.

“You are entering the strongest job market in nearly a decade,” Yellen told graduates at the University of Baltimore on Monday. “The job prospects and career opportunities for new graduates at this time are very good.”

With the unemployment rate at 4.6% — its lowest level since 2007 — Yellen made the case that the job seekers’ futures look good, especially if they get a college education. The unemployment rate for college grads is just 2.3%.

Yellen also touched on two hot button topics for American jobs — globalization and automation, and argued those forces make education all the more important.

“Technological advances have increasingly allowed simpler, repetitive tasks to be done more cheaply and safely by machines,” Yellen noted.

Studies show that robots and machines have taken away far more manufacturing jobs than Mexico or China has.

“Globalization has reinforced the shift away from lower-skilled jobs,” Yellen said. “The jobs that globalization creates in the United States…are more likely to be filled by those who, like you, have secured the advantage of higher education.”

The average college graduate last year earned about 70% more than a typical high school graduate. That gap has widened since 1980 when college grads only earned 20% more than their high school peers, according to Yellen, citing Pew Research and the Council on Economic Advisers.

There are about 54 million Americans in the labor market who have a college degree or a graduate degree. There are about 47 million Americans in the job market who only have a high school diploma or less, Labor Department data shows.

It’s not all about money though: “Research also shows that a college or graduate degree typically leads to a happier, healthier, and longer life,” Yellen told graduates, citing a study by two economics professors.