Free Markets, Free People

underemployed


Economic reality welcomes new college grads

And it isn’t what they expected or hoped it would be:

A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don’t fully use their skills and knowledge.

Young adults with bachelor’s degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs — waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example — and that’s confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans.

An analysis of government data conducted for The Associated Press lays bare the highly uneven prospects for holders of bachelor’s degrees.

We continue to hear that we’re in a recovery, that we’re seeing better times, that all is now well.

Of course, it’s not.  In fact, as we mentioned in the podcast last night, we’re not seeing anywhere near the growth necessary to shake this recession.  Instead, we’ve found and are bouncing along the bottom (or at least what is the bottom for now – believe it or not, it could again get worse).

Unemployment numbers for the last two months have “unexpectedly” worse.  And while the official rate is 8.2%, most realize the real unemployment rate is much higher and in double digits.

That is the world today’s college grads are facing.  It is a buyers market, for those that are actually hiring college grads and so they are able to select among the best.  Guess what majors are faring best?

While there’s strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder.

Majors with immediate applicability in still growing fields of course.  Meanwhile, there’s not much demand for the softer and less applicable fields.   And even in the majors where demand is still high, entry level jobs are of a lower type:

Median wages for those with bachelor’s degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating midlevel jobs such as bank tellers. Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.

This is one of those teachable moments.  A sheepskin is no longer a guarantee to a high paying job.  And that’s certainly true of those who indulge themselves in a humanities or art degree, etc. 

College graduates who majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities were among the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their education level; those with nursing, teaching, accounting or computer science degrees were among the most likely.

While perhaps the brightest and best in those areas will indeed find good paying jobs coming out of the chute, the vast majority are going to be taking jobs, if they can find them, well outside their major field of study.

By the way, I use the term “indulge” above purposefully.  It would be nice to indulge yourself in something you might enjoy in college and major in it.  But then don’t whine when you find out that all of the companies you feel should have the benefit of your august presence aren’t as excited about your degree in gender studies as you are.

That gets down to the purpose of college to each person.  Is it a means of achieving a job and a life style to which one aspires and a willingness to do what is necessary to accomplish that?  Or is it a place one indulges themselves giving little or no thought to the reality that awaits them at graduation?

What we are seeing is the market for college grads making a very definitive statement.  It is sending signals.  It is telling everyone what type of degrees are being sought and which aren’t.  And because of the tightness of the market, it is making decisions on merit, with the brightest and best capturing jobs and the also ran’s waiting tables.

"I don’t even know what I’m looking for," says Michael Bledsoe, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.

Imagine that … creative writing degree.  Wonderful stuff, but not to the market for those with college degrees.  One would think that a person pursuing that sort of degree would have probably researched that and have a plan which might not include someone else hiring them first (i.e. selling their work on a freelance basis, etc. and knowing how to do that).

Had Mr. Bldsoe had a degree in physics or accounting or engineering, he’d stand a much better chance of being employed in his field of study.  Then he could indulge himself in his creative writing passion.  In fact, it would likely give him the means to do that.

Instead … “you want a tall or a grande?”

I still haven’t yet figured out why supposedly bright people can’t figure that little thing out.  Markets are talking.  Markets are sending signals.  When you choose something as your major that these markets have no interest in, what do you suppose is going to happen unless you have a plan to go out on your own immediately?

They’re not going to hire you just because you feel your major is important.  You’re going to hire someone if they feel the major is important and  you have demonstrated competence in that field at a level they require.

This is the reality that, for the first time, many recent college grads are coming to grips with.

One thing this recession may finally do is drive home the idea that indulging yourself is a useless degree is not very bright or productive.

Want to study creative writing?  Fine.  They have minors as well in colleges.  Make it your minor.  But for heaven sake, take a clue and look at what is being demanded out there before declaring a major.  Certainly it may not be your passion, but then unless you want to spend your days immediately after college waiting tables or hoping for a labor sellers market, where jobs are plentiful, you had better commit to a useful major.

I know, I know, that supply and demand thingy again.  Gender studies majors aren’t into “markets” and “supply and demand” stuff. What’s wrong with me?  They have a college degree, the world should be beating a pathway to their door, no?

No.

Welcome to reality … and reality includes the immutable laws of economics whether one likes them or not.  And right now, those with useless degrees find themselves on the wrong side of the demand curve.

Don’t like economics?

Then content yourself with making frappes.

Otherwise, it’s time to wise up, use that superior brain for what it was designed and “indulge” yourself in something the job market finds useful and valuable.  Refusal to do that means a guaranteed rough transition into the real world, especially now.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO