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How Much Does a JD Boost Earnings for Minorities?

A new study says your law degree will roughly double your income, but not so much if you are a minority.

According to economics and law researchers, white law graduates get a median annual boost in earnings of about $41,000. Asians get about $34,000; blacks, $33,00; and Hispanics, $28,000.

The authors say the value of a law degree could be exaggerated, because of various factors, but the differences in races are consistent. So what the future earnings is going on here?

Bad News for Minorities

"Law earnings premiums are higher for whites than for minorities," write Frank McIntryre and Michael Simkovic.

McIntyre, of Rutgers Business School, and Simkovic, at USC's Gould School of Law, say earnings are trending upward for all ethnic groups, except Asians. Although they graduate in the top half of law schools in a higher proportion than the other groups, Asians have seen their earnings largely stagnating.

The authors say the differences may be due to minorities being more likely to work in the public sector, where earnings are lower. The disparities may be due to employment discrimination or socioeconomic factors, such as family wealth or social connections.

McIntyre and Simkovic also cited a controversial study that said low undergraduate grades and standardized test scores could lead to educational "mismatch" that could reduce minorities' law school class rank, bar passage rates and career advancement. In that study, the authors said, UCLA law professor Richard H. Sander generated "considerable debate."

Good News for All

In any case, the authors say that all law school graduates typically received a "large boost" to their earnings compared to what they would have earned with only a bachelor's degree.

"The law earnings premium has exceeded the cost of law school by a wide margin, even toward the bottom of the earnings distribution, and even for graduates who enter the labor force during a recession or with an unusually large cohort of fellow law graduates," they wrote.

Three years ago, as law school enrollments were plummeting, the authors said a law degree more than pays for itself. They claimed a law graduate will make $1 million, on average, more than a college grad.

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