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Yellen to college grads: Best job market in nearly a decade

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen lauded the value of a college degree at Monday's commencement ceremonies for the University of Baltimore but largely steered away from commenting on the economy or interest rates.

Yellen told the graduating stuadents that they are entering the strongest job market the country has seen in nearly a decade, but because of technology and globalization, success is tied to higher education.

"Economists are not certain about many things. But we are quite certain that a college diploma or an advanced degree is a key to economic success," Yellen said in remarks at the commencement, which took place at the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric.

People with a college degree are more likely to find a job, keep it and earn a higher salary, she said.

Yellen said the increasing demand for people with college and graduate degrees reflected the need for higher technological skills and the impact of globalization, which allows goods and services to be produced anywhere. She said those trends are likely to continue.

"Success will continue to be tied to education, in part because a good education enhances one's ability to adapt to a changing economy," she said.

Yellen did not make any comments about interest-rate policies. The Fed boosted its benchmark rate last week by a quarter-point, the first increase in a year. In making the announcement, the Fed projected that it would move rates up another three times in 2017.

Yellen did note the improvement in the unemployment rate, which in November fell to a nine-year low of 4.6 percent, and said there are signs that wage growth is picking up.

But she said challenges remain.

The economy has been growing more slowly than in past economic recoveries and productivity growth, which influences wages, has been disappointing, she said.

Yellen also noted the widening wage gap between workers with college degrees and those with a high school diploma. Annual earnings for college graduates last year were on average 70 percent higher than those with only a high school diploma. In 1980, that difference was only 20 percent, she said.

"It concerns me, as it should concern all of us, that many are falling behind," she said. "Improvements in elementary and secondary education can help prepare more people for college and the opportunities college makes available, but for those who do not attend college, we must find other ways to extend economic opportunity to everyone in America."

While the bulk of Yellen's remarks spoke to broader trends in the job market and global economy, she closed by directly addressing the undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom, Yellen noted, are from the Baltimore area and plan to build their careers here.

"The challenges you have overcome are the challenges faced by many people in Baltimore and in communities throughout America," Yellen told the graduates. "Your success, which we celebrate today, is also the promise of a brighter future for this city. The degrees you have worked so hard to earn and the opportunities now opening up to you represent the stubborn, earnest hope that anyone and everyone who strives to succeed still can succeed."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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