College Grads: A Diploma But No Job?

I tend to worry some these days about things I have no control over. For instance, was the fix in against Bristol Palin during the finals of Dancing With the Stars? Did Cliff Lee sign with the Phillies so he could spend his career unburdened with the designated hitter rule that is a curse to MLB?

And more importantly — and seriously — are there enough jobs in this economy for the talented and enthusiastic young people who are exiting college and entering the job market?

Clearly, the answer is no. And that represents a huge challenge for college grads and their families — and for our country now and in the future.

For some perspective, consider this article in USA Today, “Unemployment rate for college grads is highest since 1970.” Here’s an excerpt:

Last month’s increase in unemployment was especially discouraging for the well-educated.

The jobless rate for Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree rose to 5.1%, the highest since 1970 when records were first kept, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. October’s 4.7% rate was up from 4.4% in September. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate last month rose to 9.8% from 9.6%.

Joblessness among those with advanced educations probably drove the overall rate higher, as that group makes up 30% of the labor force, the single biggest sector, says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. The government’s figures show there were 2.4 million unemployed people last month with bachelor’s degrees and higher.

OK. A college education — any education that leads to a diploma or certification after high school — is important. And overall, unemployment these days for those with college degrees is about half  of that for others: about 5 percent compared to 10 percent.

But here’s the rub. Recent college grads are faring no better during this jobless economic recovery than the general population. Here’s from a NYT editorial, “College, Jobs and Inequality“:

A college education is better than no college education and correlates with higher pay. But as a cure for unemployment or as a way to narrow the chasm between the rich and everyone else, “more college” is a too-easy answer. Over the past year, for example, the unemployment rate for college grads under age 25 has averaged 9.2 percent, up from 8.8 percent a year earlier and 5.8 percent in the first year of the recession that began in December 2007. That means recent grads have about the same level of unemployment as the general population. It also suggests that many employed recent grads may be doing work that doesn’t require a college degree.

Even more disturbing, there is no guarantee that unemployed or underemployed college grads will move into much better jobs as conditions improve. Early bouts of joblessness, or starting in a lower-level job with lower pay, can mean lower levels of career attainment and earnings over a lifetime.Graduates who have been out of work or underemployed in the downturn may also find themselves at a competitive disadvantage with freshly minted college graduates as the economy improves.

I know there are no easy answers here. Just a few years ago many pundits were predicting a shortage of workers — driven in part by the then-anticipated mass exodus of Baby Boomers from the workplace. Well, that didn’t happen — and ain’t going to happen anytime soon. Too much uncertainty about the economy, medical costs, Social Security and so on.

And throw in the Great Bush Recession and the collapse of the housing and stock markets, and well, you know. Hug the job tree as long as you can. Just sayin’.

So the challenge is to figure out a way to create jobs — and not just those that require you to ask whether you want fries with that sandwich. Here again from the NYT editorial:

College is still the path to higher-paying professions. But without a concerted effort to develop new industries, the weakened economy will be hard pressed to create enough better-paid positions to absorb all graduates.

Prez O is going to meet with business leaders Wednesday Inside the Beltway.

Let’s hope they focus on the most pressing problem facing this country today: jobs.

They can worry about the designated hitter rule some other time.


2 responses to “College Grads: A Diploma But No Job?

  1. I spend sleepless nights fixating on the same thing. I’m firmly hugging my job tree, but I have two small children and keep talking about “college” … but in preparation for what job in the future, exactly?



    • Thanks for the comment. Finding a way to create enough good jobs — those that are secure, pay well and offer some career opportunities — really is the biggest problem that we face now as a nation.

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