Half of new grads are jobless or underemployed

Half of recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed, according to an AP analysis of government data.

While there’s strong demand for graduates with bachelor’s degrees in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities graduates are working in jobs that don’t require higher education. Median wages are down since 2000.

“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.

Initially hopeful that his college education would create opportunities, Bledsoe languished for three months before finally taking a job as a barista, a position he has held for the last two years. In the beginning he sent three or four resumes day. But, Bledsoe said, employers questioned his lack of experience or the practical worth of his major. Now he sends a resume once every two weeks or so.

Bledsoe, currently making just above minimum wage, says he got financial help from his parents to help pay off student loans. He is now mulling whether to go to graduate school, seeing few other options to advance his career. “There is not much out there, it seems,” he said.

I majored in creative writing in the early 1970’s, but worked on the college newspaper to qualify myself for a job in journalism. All creative writing majors — and all English majors — knew that opportunities wouldn’t just open up for us. And what sort of graduate degree is he considering?  

“You can make more money on average if you go to college, but it’s not true for everybody,” says Harvard economist Richard Freeman, noting the growing risk of a debt bubble with total U.S. student loan debt surpassing $1 trillion. “If you’re not sure what you’re going to be doing, it probably bodes well to take some job, if you can get one, and get a sense first of what you want from college.”

The fastest growing occupations are in retail sales, fast food and truck driving, reports AP. A huge demand for home health care aides is projected. Only three jobs that require a bachelor’s degree or higher — teacher, college professor and accountant — make the government’s top 30 list of fast-growing occupations. 
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  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    Did this guy (Michael from the article) have any work experience prior to working in a coffeehouse? Did he not work or volunteer part-time during high school or college? Are some young people so divorced from reality that they believe they can collect some soft credential and with no relevant or irrelevant work experience walk into a job that relates to their degree? Even in good financial times, this seems very naive to me

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      If you click over to the article, you’ll see a picture of said Michael. He has a nose ring. Not a delicate little stud but a big old honking stud like on a real bull. He’s finding it difficult to find a good paying job. Ya think?

      • So what? Can they see the nose ring through his resume? Why do you assume that he wears the nose ring to interviews? Why do you immediately assume that’s how he presents himself to prospective employers?

        (Heck, maybe he does… and that would be bad… but I don’t just assume it.)

        I’m not disputing his difficulty in getting a job with a degree in creative writing and no job experience or internships. That’s the crux of his problem.

        But bashing him because of a nose ring? So what? I know plenty of professionals who have nose-rings, eyebrow rings, tattoos, etc. But they know how to wear appropriate attire on the job.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          He’s not a very competitive person or terribly bright if he believes the only time he’s encountering potential employers is when he’s submitting his resume or interviewing. Many, many job opportunites come through unconventional sources. Some potential employers are going to see that nose ring and immediately dismiss him. It is what it is.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      They were also, as far as I can tell, careful not to mention from where he received said degree.

      That matters.

  2. Stacy,

    College is rapidly becoming the biggest ripoff in the US. Within 10 years or so, only 1/4 to 1/3 of all jobs in the US will actually require a college degree, but the edu-nuts and politicos wish to brainwash clueless high school students (and their parental units) that you’ll make a fortune with a college degree.

    As Marty Nemko has said on numerous occasions, the bachelor’s degree is the most overrated product today, and that the cost of a college education has increased by a factor of almost 4 since 1980 (not to mention, the quality of a college education hasn’t improved over the last 30 years).

    High School students need to seriously question the wisdom of taking on a pile of debt (which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy) and start getting a better education while they’re still in public school.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Oh, I agree with you, Bill.

      We basically waste 4-6 years of a younger persons life housing them in institutional setting (high school and college) where only a handful are getting what they really need to be successful later in life.

      I know a great many teens and twenty-somethings enjoy their high school and college years, but are we really preparing them to be independent adults? Not so much.

    • This is ironic and true. Ironically, because of the amazing advancements in technology, soon the degree holders will be the ones building and maintaining this technology – everyone that maintains it and uses it won’t need those fancy degrees. It’s like the whole thing coming full circle, in a way…

    • I’d say that not only has the quality of a college education not improved in the last 30 years but that it has declined, outside of those majors still in demand – which is why employers are not willing to pay college-grad salaries for the soft majors. That isn’t happening even for grads of very competitive colleges, let alone for the middling ones or the takes-all-comers ones.

      A HS diploma doesn’t mean what it used to, either, yet teachers and guidance counselors are now telling kids who would never have a chance at getting into college (let alone getting passing grades there) that OF COURSE they should go to college. A new teacher in an affluent DC suburb was warned by her department colleagues that even hinting to 9th-graders unable to write a coherent sentence, identify the subject of a sentence with only one noun or read above a 6th-7th-grade level that they might not be college material would cost a non-tenured teacher her job. It’s insanity, and the chickens are now coming home to roost.

      • Well, I can understand the teacher not being the one to tell them – the student(s) might then think the teacher has a vendetta against them somehow – but it IS the job of the counselors to tell them that they are probably not college material. If the counselors aren’t doing this, they’re avoiding part of their job (because telling someone that is not easy or fun, but necessary at some point).

        Kind of reminds me of 7th & 8th grade for me… I tried out for the football, basketball, and baseball teams over and over and over… Until the 8th grade counselor sat me down one day and said, “Son, you’re never going to be in the NFL, NBA, or MLB. And that’s OK. Neither was Einstein, or Eisenhower, or Twain. You need to find out what you are good at – which 90+% of the time will end up being something you enjoy – rather than wishing you were good at something you’re not, for purely social life / social status reasons.” Best advice I ever got, and I got it early enough in life to make good use of it!

  3. I think we’re seeing the end of the college-grad lifetime earnings advantage, with exceptions for some majors/degrees. Not only was the percentage of HS grads going on to college much lower 40+ years ago, it used to be common for colleges to weed out about a third of their entering class (2/3 in the case of engineering schools), usually due to failure of freshman English comp/lit and/or the freshman sciences – both of which were common university-wide requirements. The end result of both policies was to ensure that college grads were inherently different, in ability, preparation &/or motivation, from non-college grads. This difference was one that employers valued. Today, college grads do not inherently possess greater knowledge or skills, particularly if they have taken a soft major. It used to be that an English or history major would have solid writing and analytical skills, in addition to content knowledge, but none of that can be assumed today. At many schools, English majors no longer need to read the classics, history majors may take only oppression classes and neither may have done any significant research or writing.

    A relative did a summer internship, after her junior year, at a large Manhattan PR firm and she was the only intern (of 16-18) allowed to write press releases, memos or anything else; the rest had writing skills that limited them to filing, running errands and the like. And these were kids from top schools who had strong enough resumes to get the them the internship in the first place!

    • Not just 40+ years ago… I remember being told by the professor in my freshman Engineering Physics class that 1/3 of the class (of 500-something students) wasn’t going to pass this class… And this was in the late 90’s…

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “I think we’re seeing the end of the college-grad lifetime earnings advantage, with exceptions for some majors/degrees.”

      In 1960 about 10% of the US population had 4-year college degrees.

      Today, about 30% does.

      I’d say that it should be obvious that signalling “top 10%” is more valuable than signalling “top 30%.”

      In addition, the US was creating a lot more college requiring white-collar jobs post-1960. As an example, the student/teacher ratio for K-12 public schools dropped from 25:1 to 16:1. This helped those new college graduates find work that required a college degree.

      Going forward it should be obvious that going from “top 30%” to “top 50%” will be even less valuable. And that we won’t be shrinking K-12 class sizes by a lot for a while.

      Then add in that the *COST* for this signalling has gone up …

      Kids are going to have to start considering:
      (a) What does *THIS* degree/university signal, and
      (b) Am *I* a good fit for jobs in this field.

      It will be painful.



      • Genevieve says:

        Also before 1960, not every teacher had a college degree. My husband’s grandmother just had a normal school certificate. Sometime in the 1960s she went back to school to get a B.A.

        • None of my 1-4 teachers had a college degree; 3 Normal School grads and 1 with a year or two of college. They were all excellent teachers, still in their classrooms in 1970. They not only knew math, phonics, grammar and composition, they taught civics, history and science. Real content, taught well. None of the nuns, also good teachers, in my DH’s ES had degrees either. I’m still not convinced that a BA is necessary for k-5; I think a WELL-DESIGNED CC program would work. Of course, as long as 3rd grade teachers (like a relative of mine) are paid for a master’s or doctorate (if they have 60 credits above BA), credential inflation will rule.

    • Mmm, I’d say we may be seeing the beginning of the end of the uncritical acceptance of a degree as a route to economic success.

      • Wow, Allen. This is one area where we are in complete agreement.

      • I read a paper recently that predicted that less that half the colleges and Universities that exist now will still exist 30-40 years from now. The survivors will have survived based on history and reputation, resources, and actual quality output of graduates. Everyone else? Their days are numbered…

        And this is a good thing. Vocational schools (a police academy is a good example) should be replacing college for about 65% of the people who are in college now, as well as everyone who isn’t in college now, who would be perfect for so-called ‘blue collar jobs’ (which make good money, REALLY good money in many cases, BTW) but either get useless degrees or flounder altogether at a University.

      • In other words, part of what’s so warped about how our society views things these days is that it only views a University degree as the ONLY real education, and the mainstream media frowns upon the so-called ‘blue collar jobs.’ When was the last time you saw a movie or TV show where a police officer, firefighter, EMT, plumber, carpenter, electrician, mechanic, welder, etc. were treated as good, helpful to society, respectful jobs?

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Call me crazy, but wouldn’t a major in creative writing be presumed to be a preparation for creative writing?
    So why isn’t he writing creatively and making Tom Clancy-ish money?
    Or did he think he would enjoy four years of being graded on navel-gazers and let tomorrow take care of tomorrow?
    Either way, there are people in trouble who didn’t invite their trouble. I think my sympathy might be directed toward them.
    I once met a free-lance writer who put three kids through college by putting his seat in the chair twelve hours a day six days a week.
    What do you write, I asked. “Anything the editor wants.”
    There’s nothing new to say, he said, only new and engaging ways of saying it, which takes real creativity.

  5. Sean Mays says:

    “I don’t even know what I’m looking for.” Hard to understand how you could be UNDERemployed, perhaps barrista is exactly it. OCS is usually hiring and there’s always specialized training like Navy Nuclear Power school – minimum bid is Calc 2 and 2 semesters of calc based physics. Can crash through that at community college in 12 months or so.

    momof4: That much vaunted “$1 million” lifetimes earnings advantage number that gets bantered around so much is based on assumptions that would make any reasonable I-banker blush. Discount Factor at the T-Bill rate, graduate in 4 years, etc. Oh yeah, and it was done on grads from more than a generation ago, back when there was a weeding process. I’d suspect for many students, college IS and HAS been NPV negative for years; I don’t know about the intangible benefits, perhaps many of them have achieved enlightenment.

    • That’s what I said; the underlying assumptions/personal differences/ achievements no longer exist, for most majors. The ed world appears to be constitutionally unable to differentiate between correlation and causation; (age 50+) college grads earned more, so we’ll now send everyone to college and all will miraculously become (way) above average!

      • Sean Mays says:

        I was too subtle, I was intimating that the entire campaign of Learn More / Earn More was overstated right out of the gate; it has only gotten worse.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Sean. You want to give this guy responsibility for the lives of three dozen of American mothers’ sons?
      Do you have a son, a brother, you could see under this clown’s command?
      Thought not.

      • Sean Mays says:

        I was hoping they’d straighten him out before it got that far; otherwise, no. It’d be nice if they got officers the way M.I. does it. Maybe he could become an intelligence analyst at the CIA – analyze jihadist creative writings? I was inspired by your attempt at humor; Tom Clancy’s an English major from Loyola College; so I thought I’d play along that line.

        • Richard Aubrey says:

          Sean. Clancy’s also an ex-insurance agent. As am I. I made $250 from my writing in 2010. Both mags have fallen on low-page-count times, though.
          Have to think of something else, I guess.
          The commission, iirc, includes something along the lines of “the president reposes especial confidence in the valor and fidelity of….”
          This is the second time this week I’ve fired up at the suggestion that somebody, in the other case, “become an officer”. It was hard to get into OCS and half the company didn’t graduate.
          Toughest thing of all was contemplating the responsibility.

  6. Far too many young people are being led to believe that a bachelor’s degree makes them instantly marketable and employable. That’s not necessarily true – especially in a down market where millions of experienced workers are still looking for work. However, they might find more opportunities if they didn’t limit themselves – and that includes not limiting themselves to the borders of the United States.

    In a down market in 1991 when schools were cutting budgets and entry level positions for high school teachers were scarce, my wife and I found five years of very profitable work teaching English in Taiwan.

    That experience not only got me out of my parents house, but made me infinitely more marketable later.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      And you got to live abroad.

    • They also seem to think that good jobs will miraculously appear in response to a resume. They don’t seem to understand that they have to start early in college; get acquainted with professors, get an internship in your intended field for a few hours a week, volunteer in your area, research opportunities, go to campus job fairs and interviews. In short, make the most of your opportunities and market yourself. Those who sit back and wait until spring of their senior year are likely to be left on the shelf because their more ambitious classmates already have the available jobs.

      • This is true. Our students (this is in the sciences) who work hard, take on internships, earn good grades, and take the tough classes generally have few problems finding employment.

        The people who slack, who take only the bare minimum of courses in the department, who accept grades like Cs and Ds (I personally don’t think a D should be considered “passing” but in most of our classes it is), who don’t do internships or research, have a hard time finding work.

        And then they complain. And blame the college for failing to “prepare” them.

        A friend of mine uses the analogy of joining a gym: the only way you will get fit from joining a gym is if you actually go and work.

        Part of the problem is that some departments have made it too easy for people to be lazy. And then making them expect that the diploma is a magic piece of paper that gets them a job.

        • Stacy in NJ says:

          This is just life. Whatever the setting, whether academic or not, those folks who are looking around, trying to make connections, working hard, learning from others and their own mistakes are likely to find success. Those that expect opportunities to materialize are left holding the bag and working at Starbucks. In other words, personal ambition matters.

          Now, I know that youth unemployment is at record highs, and there are smart kids looking for work, but people like Michael from the article seem programed for failure or at least mediocrity. Is that his fault or the fault of our educational system? A little of both, I think.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    The contractor doing our remodeling is booked through July and, from time to time, has to go look at potential jobs for later.
    The subs–heating, electrical, plumbing, insulation–are all, he says, working full time.
    Some of them may have gone to college.

  8. I can’t help but imagine that the decline we’re seeing is an overall result of degrees that just aren’t hard. If everyone has to go to college, then the toughness of the programs HAS to come down from what it used to be. If you work less to get the degree, you have to imagine that employers will be equally less interested in hiring you.

    As for Michael, “I don’t even know what I’m looking for” is a self-reinforcing attitude. There is no route to meaningful employment from that statement.

  9. Working less to get the degree is about the jist of it. The problem is that College (for the most part) has become the new high school, and in many fields, what does an employer look for, someone with a newly minted college degree who might take 3-9 months to get up to speed, or a person who has 20 years of experience, a degree, and problem solving ability.

    I’d go with the second person, if I’m in a hurry.