Tag Archives: youth unemployment

Is College Worth It?

It’s interesting to me how various story themes emerge and then make the rounds of blogs and other Internet sites and then find a home at the national mainstream media. Here’s one. Is a college degree worth the cost and effort? And does the answer to that question hinge on whether there is a job waiting at graduation?

Here are two interesting op-eds from the NYT.

First, by Frank Bruni, “The Imperiled Promise of College“:

FOR a long time and for a lot of us, “college” was more or less a synonym for success. We had only to go. We had only to graduate. And if we did, according to parents and high-school guidance counselors and everything we heard and everything we read, we could pretty much count on a career, just about depend on a decent income and more or less expect security. A diploma wasn’t a piece of paper. It was an amulet.

And it was broadly accessible, or at least it was spoken of that way. With the right mix of intelligence, moxie and various kinds of aid, a motivated person could supposedly get there. College was seen as a glittering centerpiece of the American dream, a reliable engine of social mobility.

I’m not sure things were ever that simple, but they’re definitely more complicated now. And that was an unacknowledged backdrop for the pitched debate last week about federal student loan rates and whether they would be kept at 3.4 percent or allowed to return to 6.8 percent. That was one reason, among many, that it stirred up so much anxiety and got so much attention.

Because of levitating costs, college these days is a luxury item. What’s more, it’s a luxury item with newly uncertain returns.

Yes, many of the sorts of service-industry jobs now available to people without higher education are less financially rewarding than manufacturing jobs of yore, and so college has in that sense become more imperative. And, yes, college graduates have an unemployment rate half that of people with only high school degrees.

But that figure factors in Americans who got their diplomas and first entered the job market decades ago, and it could reflect not just what was studied in college but the already established economic advantages, contacts and temperaments of the kind of people who pursue and stick with higher education.

It doesn’t capture the grim reality for recent college graduates, whose leg up on their less educated counterparts isn’t such a sturdy, comely leg at the moment. According to an Associated Press analysis of data from 2011, 53.6 percent of college graduates under the age of 25 were unemployed or, if they were lucky, merely underemployed, which means they were in jobs for which their degrees weren’t necessary. Philosophy majors mull questions no more existential than the proper billowiness of the foamed milk atop a customer’s cappuccino. Anthropology majors contemplate the tribal behavior of the youngsters who shop at the Zara where they peddle skinny jeans.

I single out philosophy and anthropology because those are two fields — along with zoology, art history and humanities — whose majors are least likely to find jobs reflective of their education level, according to government projections quoted by the Associated Press. But how many college students are fully aware of that? How many reroute themselves into, say, teaching, accounting, nursing or computer science, where degree-relevant jobs are easier to find? Not nearly enough, judging from the angry, dispossessed troops of Occupy Wall Street.

The thing is, today’s graduates aren’t just entering an especially brutal economy. They’re entering it in many cases with the wrong portfolios. To wit: as a country we routinely grant special visas to highly educated workers from countries like China and India. They possess scientific and technical skills that American companies need but that not enough American students are acquiring.

“That’s why there are all these kinds of initiatives to make math and science fun,” Stephen J. Rose, a senior economist at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, reminded me last week. He was referring to elementary and high school attempts to prime more American students for college majors in those areas and for sectors of the job market where positions are more plentiful and lucrative. The center issued a report last year that noted that “not all bachelor’s degrees are the same” and that “while going to college is undoubtedly a wise decision, what you take while you’re there matters a lot, too.”

And from Paul Krugman, “Wasting Our Minds“:

There is, however, a larger issue: even if students do manage, somehow, to “get the education,” which they do all too often by incurring a lot of debt, they’ll be graduating into an economy that doesn’t seem to want them.

You’ve probably heard lots about how workers with college degrees are faring better in this slump than those with only a high school education, which is true. But the story is far less encouraging if you focus not on middle-aged Americans with degrees but on recent graduates. Unemployment among recent graduates has soared; so has part-time work, presumably reflecting the inability of graduates to find full-time jobs. Perhaps most telling, earnings have plunged even among those graduates working full time — a sign that many have been forced to take jobs that make no use of their education.

College graduates, then, are taking it on the chin thanks to the weak economy. And research tells us that the price isn’t temporary: students who graduate into a bad economy never recover the lost ground. Instead, their earnings are depressed for life.

[Spoiler alert: Dr. K then launches his familiar rant about the economic and job-creation policies of Romney and fellow conservatives.]

I still believe that the lack of quality jobs and the continuing weak economy will be the dominant issues in this year’s elections.

Is college worth it?

You bet.

But without the prospect of a job and a career that involves asking more than whether the customer wants fries with the sandwich, more and more young people and their parents may begin to question it.


Young and Jobless: Does Anyone Care?

I know there are some big news fish in the skillet these days. For instance, Kris Jenner is gobbling up cable news air time promoting a female sexual arousal oil. Something tells me that if that oil is coming from Iran we’ll be at war long before Israel starts dropping heavy metal on Ahmadinejad and company.

Still in my dotage I find myself fretting less about female sexual arousal oil and more about the fact that young people in the USA can’t find jobs. Go figure.

Here’s the story by Alexander Eichler on The Huffington Post, “Employment Rate For Young Adults Lowest In 60 Years, Study Says“:

Are you young and looking for work? You’re in good company.

Just 54 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24 currently have jobs, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. That’s the lowest employment rate for this age group since the government began keeping track in 1948. And it’s a sharp drop from the 62 percent who had jobs in 2007 — suggesting the recession is crippling career prospects for a broad swath of young people who were still in high school or college when the downturn began.

“They had the misfortune to be born at a time that would dump them into this labor market as young people,” said Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “If we stay on the track that we’re on, this cohort is not going to outpace their parents.”

The Pew study arrives just days after the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report, which showed the national unemployment rate trending down for a fifth straight month — a change that many took as a sign that the economy is finally beginning to right itself. Yet joblessness is still high, and financial security remains out of reach for millions more people than just a few years ago.

Young adults were largely spared the collapse in wealth that many older Americans went through when the housing market imploded. Still, in some ways they have it the worst of any demographic. Besides the historically low employment rate for people in their late-teens and early-20s — which is, incidentally, about 15 percentage points below the general employment rate for working-age adults, according to Pew — the recession has eroded young workers’ paychecks to a far greater degree than any other age group.

Among adults ages 18 to 34, more than a third say they have gone back to school in the face of a tough labor market, the Pew study notes. Nearly a quarter have taken an unpaid job or moved back in with parents. One in five have put off having a child or getting married due to economic concerns.

Still, the young people surveyed by Pew seem remarkably optimistic.

A full 88 percent say they’re either making enough to suit their needs now, or expect to in the future. And 60 percent of people ages 18 to 34 say their children will have a better standard of living than them. That prediction is notably more confident than that of people ages 35 and older, of whom only 43 percent have a similarly hopeful view.

Young people are probably correct to say that their earning power will grow as they age, said Shierholz. But a wealth of research suggests that young people who enter the job market during a recession face years of wages that are lower than people who got there slightly sooner and had a chance to establish themselves. People who graduated and kicked off their job search in 2009 or 2010 are likely to experience pay 10 to 15 percent lower than their peers’, for as much as a decade after leaving school.

If all of this seems like grim news for young people, they can at least take comfort knowing that older generations seem to recognize their struggles.

The Pew study found that among the general population, 41 percent of people think young adults have it tougher than anyone in the current job market, and a growing number of parents say they believe children should aim for economic independence by age 25, rather than a younger age.

Part of that cross-generational commiseration may come from the fact that huge segments of the national population are struggling financially right now. Shierholz told The Huffington Post that the obstacles faced by young job-seekers reflect the muted health of the overall economy.

“Things were not so great even before the recession hit,” she said, citing the growth of the wage gap and the decline of labor unions — trends that predate the current slump by several decades — as factors keeping the lower and middle classes from achieving greater economic buoyancy. “If you want to move the dial on what’s going on with young workers’ unemployment, you need to help the labor market more broadly.”

Gotta figure out a way to get more young people into the workforce and on career paths that provide sustainable incomes and lifestyles.

Maybe we should ask the Kardashians to noodle on a solution. They appear to be thriving in today’s less-than-robust economy.

Hey. Maybe there is something to this female sexual arousal oil.

Or maybe not.

Riots in England: USA Next?

While chasing the treadmill belt early this a.m. I watched the killing, rioting, looting and general anarchy on the streets of London and elsewhere throughout England. Amazing — and frightening, since this follows a pattern of violence throughout Europe in recent months.

We’re not talking about another Arab Spring here. Most basically, we’re talking about a clash between the haves and the have-nots — fueled in large part by a generation of young people without jobs and without anything close to the prospect of gaining a middle-class lifestyle.

And, yeah, I know. In England — and in other parts of Europe — there are big and controversial issues about immigration, health care, taxes, social welfare and so on.

Wow. Sound like any country we know?

The USA has a host of big problems — although I don’t believe the deficit limit is the one that the Prez and Congress should be spending all their time on. Consider some others: jobs and education, for instance. And how about what the NYT describes in an opinion article by Charles Blow as “The Decade of Lost Children“:

One of the greatest casualties of the great recession may well be a decade of lost children.

According to “The State of America’s Children 2011,” a report issued last month by the Children’s Defense Fund, the impact of the recession on children’s well-being has been catastrophic.

Here is just a handful of the findings:

• The number of children living in poverty has increased by four million since 2000, and the number of children who fell into poverty between 2008 and 2009 was the largest single-year increase ever recorded.

• The number of homeless children in public schools increased 41 percent between the 2006-7 and 2008-9 school years.

• In 2009, an average of 15.6 million children received food stamps monthly, a 65 percent increase over 10 years.

• A majority of children in all racial groups and 79 percent or more of black and Hispanic children in public schools cannot read or do math at grade level in the fourth, eighth or 12th grades.

• The annual cost of center-based child care for a 4-year-old is more than the annual in-state tuition at a public four-year college in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

Grim data, indeed. And there is no sign that things will get better anytime soon.

As a report issued last week by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out: “Of the 47 states with newly enacted budgets, 38 or more states are making deep, identifiable cuts in K-12 education, higher education, health care, or other key areas in their budgets for fiscal year 2012. Even as states face rising numbers of children enrolled in public schools, students enrolled in universities, and seniors eligible for services, the vast majority of states (37 of 44 states for which data are available) plan to spend less on services in 2012 than they spent in 2008 — in some cases, much less. These cuts will slow the nation’s economic recovery and undermine efforts to create jobs over the next year.”

We risk the creation of an engorged generational underclass born of a culture that has less income equality and fewer prospects for mobility than the previous generation.

It’s hard to see how we emerge from this downturn and its tumult a stronger nation if we allow vast swatches of our children to be lost. My fear is that we may not.

Here’s from a report by the Economic Policy Institute, “The class of 2011: Young workers face a dire labor market without a safety net“:

The Great Recession left a crater in the labor market that has been devastating for unemployed Americans of all ages. After more than two years of unemployment at well over 8%, we have a hole of more than 11 million jobs, with average spells of unemployment lasting nearly nine months. But the weak labor market has been particularly tough on young workers. In 2010, the unemployment rate for workers age 16-24 was 18.4%—the worst on record in the 60 years that this data has been tracked. Though the labor market has started to slowly recover, the prospects for young high school and college graduates remain grim. This briefing paper examines the dire labor market confronting young workers and concludes with ways that government policy could help. Specifically, our analyses found the following for calendar year 2010:

• The unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-old workers averaged 18.4%, compared with 9.6% for U.S. workers overall.

• Young high school graduates have been hardest hit: The unemployment rate for high school graduates under age 25 who were not enrolled in school was 22.5%, compared with 9.3% for college graduates of the same age.

• Young high school graduates are not keeping pace with their older peers: Their 22.5% unemployment rate is more than double the 10.3% rate among high school graduates age 25 and older.

• While their degrees afford them more opportunities in the labor market than other young workers, young college graduates still lag far behind older college-educated workers: 9.3% of them are unemployed, more than double the 4.7% unemployment rate for college graduates age 25 and older.

• Since unemployment among young college graduates still shows no improvement, the class of 2011 will likely face the highest unemployment rate for young college graduates since the Great Recession began.

• Young blacks and Hispanics are suffering disproportionately. The unemployment rate for black high school graduates under age 25 and not enrolled in school was 31.8%, compared with 22.8% for Hispanic high school graduates and 20.3% for white high school graduates. The unemployment rate for young black college graduates was 19.0%, compared with 13.8% for young Hispanic graduates and 8.4% for young white graduates.

• Young workers as a group have not been “sheltering in school” during this downturn. School enrollment rates since the start of the Great Recession have not increased by noticeably more than the long-term trend.

I also watched part of the news conference that Prime Minister David Cameron held this morning. He was everything that Obama has not been recently: direct, forceful and in control. Here’s one statement that he made that resonated with me and I expect others:

Mr Cameron, who has previously referred to “broken Britain”, said: “There are pockets of our society that are not just broken, but are frankly sick.

“It is a complete lack of responsibility in parts of our society, people allowed to feel the world owes them something, that their rights outweigh their responsibilities and their actions do not have consequences. Well, they do have consequences.”

Let’s hope that what is happening now on the streets in England and elsewhere never happens in the US. But without jobs for the millions of Americans who need and want one, don’t be surprised if an American President some day is making the same type of statement that Cameron made this morning.

Just sayin’.