College Degrees Lead to Jobs… Right?

by Abby Marco | February 3, 2014 10:48 am

The other day, someone asked me why I made my college decision. As I prepared one of my typical “I love the city/the political atmosphere is great/I wanted a challenge” responses, I received a clarification.

Why did I even decide to apply to college in general?

There are lots of thing I could have said: the independence, the academically-stimulating environment, a love of 8-am lecture classes (okay, maybe not that one…), but ultimately I settled on my goal of eventually landing a job. And not just any job- I wanted a good job, despite the fact that the unemployment rate for those with social science and liberal arts degrees is a shocking 8%. Whatever the current economic situation, I was still confident that a college education would serve me better than simply having a high school degree, even if it was a social science degree.

And, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is true; people with college degrees are better off than people their age without degrees.

Maybe it is just me, but I grew up with the impression that if I did well in school and went to college, then I would be guaranteed to have a job that I loved that provided me with a comfortable lifestyle. However, as I am realizing all too quickly, this is not necessarily the case.

According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the amount of young people in the labor force is at its lowest point since 1972, and it is not because these people simply do not want to work.

Now as I try to settle on a major, I am torn between doing what I love and doing what offers more promise of job security post-graduation. And yet, no matter which major I select, there is still no guarantee.

I have witnessed this struggle first-hand this past year as my sister, a recent college grad, has had to move back home while job hunting. She has done everything right; great grades, lots of internship experience and strong connections to people in her field. And yet, it took her nearly six months to find a job that even remotely came close to offering the salary she both expected and deserved. Still, the pay is not enough to enable her to move out on her own yet, and it is by no means a permanent career. I can’t even begin to imagine the frustration she and others in her situation must feel.

It is unfortunate that for the young people who are able to find jobs, they still are not making enough money to pay off loans and afford the cost of living. Nowadays, it is taking longer than ever for people to start earning the median wage.  In 1980, the average worker was 26 years old when he or she hit the median wage. Today, workers do not reach this number until they are 30.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 48% of college graduates are actually working jobs that require less than a four-year degree, which perhaps explains this lag in income.

While the current job market is difficult for people of all ages seeking employment, it is especially disheartening for young people who should otherwise feel hopeful about their futures.

For more information on the cost of young adult unemployment, check out this fascinating report from our partners at Young Invincibles.

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