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Half of College Graduates Under 25 are Unemployed or Underemployed

April 24th, 2012 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonRecent projections have job prospects improving for 2012’s college graduates. But there’s a lot more room for improvement than we’re likely to see:

About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. In 2000, the share was at a low of 41 percent, before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and IT fields.

Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year.

That means 100,000 waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers with bachelor’s degrees, plus 125,000 cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives and 163,000 receptionists and payroll clerks. That’s a reflection of the job categories that are growing these days:

According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren’t easily replaced by computers.

It’s the growth of inequality in action. Relatively few jobs pay a middle-class income, and competition for them grows fiercer. It’s not enough to have a bachelor’s degree; at a minimum you have to have one in the right field from the right school—and it sure helps if you’ve been able to afford to do an unpaid internship in your field while in school. But a graduate degree is even better. Too bad if that means thousands of dollars of added debt, but you don’t want to be waiting tables for the rest of your life, do you? And if you score one of those precious, rare good jobs, chances are you won’t be leaving, at least not of your own accord, not while you have all those student loans to pay off and there are so few other good jobs out there. Meanwhile, jobs that don’t require a college education are growing more quickly, but the fact that they don’t require a college education is increasingly used as the rationale for driving down wages (and benefits? forget about benefits), because why would we pay decent wages for these jobs that just anyone can do? So goes the accelerating rationale of an economy by and for the 1 percent.

11:52 AM PT: Congress can keep one small piece of this from getting worse, by acting now to keep federal student loan interest rates from doubling on July 1. Tell House Republicans to keep student loan rates low.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on April 23, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

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