The Plight of College Grads in Two Graphs

The Atlantic has a short but informative article that highlights the hopeless circumstances of hundreds of thousands of newly-graduated youth. While people with college degrees are still comparatively better-off than those without them, they’re doing worse than grads historically have.

Specifically, an increasing number of college graduates are underemployed, meaning that they’re managing to find jobs — which again, they’re statistically more likely to do — but those jobs are typically low-paying and unrelated to their study plans. As the article details:

It’s one thing to find yourself as a decently paid administrative assistant. It’s another to find yourself walking dogs to make ends meet. And during the last decade, the underemployed have come to look less like administrative assistants and more like dog walkers.

Here’s the math. Since the dotcom bust, the share of underemployed college grads in what the Fed calls “good non-college jobs,” which today pay at least $45,000 a year,* has declined from more than half to slightly over a third. Meanwhile, the share in “low-wage jobs,” which today pay $25,000 a year or less, has risen to about 20 percent, from roughly 15 percent. Do little back-of-the- envelope math,** and you find that about 9 percent of all working college graduates are stuck in jobs that pay less than $25,000, or probably somewhere south of $12.50 an hour.

I’ll let the data speak for itself:

Now it’s worth reiterating that graduates are still more likely to be employed and find decent jobs that non-graduates; it’s just that the the return on their investment isn’t what it used to be. As the article notes, this reflects a broader trend in the economy, in which middle-class jobs are slowly giving way to mostly low-paying and insecure service (characterized by the growing number of fast-food and retail jobs relative to other sectors).

So in essence, college grads are just finding themselves snagged by the same trends in inequality and job insecurity that the rest of America is experience (albeit to it varying degrees of severity).



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