When a College Degree Does You No Good

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Bloomberg article by Steve Matthews, printed in the Providence Journal, is worth a close read.  It’s about the plight of young college graduates who wind up with jobs that didn’t actually require a degree:

About 44 percent of recent college grads were employed in jobs not requiring degrees in the final quarter of 2016, not far from the 2013 peak of 46 percent, and the share of that group in low-wage positions has held steady, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed Wednesday.

That’s a sign that the nation’s labor market isn’t at full health, despite an unemployment rate forecast to remain at 4.7 percent in March, close to the lowest in almost a decade. In fact, the elevated level of college grads in non-college jobs could mean there’s still slack and that the Fed can go slow in raising interest rates, betting that more high-wage jobs will materialize. It could also mark a more permanent shift in employment that the Fed can’t fix and be a tough challenge for President Donald Trump and Congress.

As the formula goes with such articles, Matthews opens with an anecdote to humanize the story: a hotel desk worker with a degree in something related to forest resources.  Perhaps, one might suspect, not all degrees are created equal when it comes to their job-finding capacity.

Even if we put aside entirely useless, luxury majors, our approach of broadly encouraging college degrees, period, could be predicted first to max out occupations with limited openings.  Forestry may be a highly valuable, highly technical degree (I don’t know), but the relevant jobs may be limited.

Another point worth drawing from Matthews’s article is that degrees shouldn’t come first, as an economic development plan, but last.  Filling an economy that has insufficient job opportunities with new graduates will not create new jobs.  It will just mean that somebody, somewhere is paying for an underutilized education and that the young adult has wasted time only to be sent back to the entry level of the career ladder.



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