The income of American workers is far more affected by education level than other factors, including gender and race, according to a new Census Bureau study.

The study, which examined the national workforce's projected earnings over 40 years, is the latest research to underscore the value of an advanced education, experts said yesterday.

The report "supports the belief that higher levels of education are well-established paths to better jobs and higher earnings," said Census Bureau analyst Tiffany Julian.

The study is based on estimated lifetime earnings of people aged 25 to 64 using demographic data from the bureau's 2006-08 American Community Survey. Data collected include education level, age, income and race.

According to the study, males still earn more than females -- with a wage gap of nearly $13,000 a year. Hispanics and blacks earn about $6,000 less than whites. People with limited English-speaking ability earn about $8,000 a year less than those proficient in the language, it found.

But the gap is much bigger when workers with a professional degree are compared to those with an eighth-grade education. College-educated workers earned about $72,000 a year more.

White men had higher earnings across all education levels, with the exception of those with master's degrees. In that category, Asian men earned slightly more, the study found.

The results didn't surprise Michael Zweig, an economics professor and director of Stony Brook University's Center for Study of Working Class Life.

"We've known for a long time that education yields a return in terms of income over a lifetime . . . and this study seems to confirm it -- that education is the way up," he said.

Lonnie Stevans, associate professor of quantitative methods at Hofstra University, agreed.

"The vast majority of the research has found that earnings of college graduates is twice that of high school graduates," Stevans said. "This really tends to bolster that, over a 40-year span."

In light of the findings, Theresa Sanders, president and chief executive of the Urban League of Long Island, is concerned that rising tuition has put higher education out of reach for many lower-income families.

"I'm concerned that these families that made so much progress in the '60s and '70s are now enslaving themselves with debt. And a big part of that is higher education: the student loans and the Parent PLUS Loans and second mortgages," she said.

Families take on that financial burden, Sanders said, so their children can "get a decent job."

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