We produce a lot more college grads than college-level jobs


Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Jay Bookman)

Following up on a recent post about income inequality, I think it’s useful to note that according to a recent Rasmussen poll, only 15 percent of Americans believe today’s children will be better off than their parents, while 61 percent disagree. That’s a pretty startling reversal of American optimism.

It’s important to note that advancement hasn’t become impossible — not by any means. A good work ethic, a college education and marriage to a spouse who has both a job and a degree boost your chances of moving up the economic ladder substantially. The problem is that even if you do everything right, the number of good-paying slots available in the modern American economy is measurably shrinking.

Put bluntly, we are producing a lot more college graduates than jobs that require a college education.

“In 1970, fewer than 1 percent of taxi drivers and 2 percent of firefighters had college degrees, while now more than 15 percent do in both jobs,” a recent study by the Center for College Affordability reports.

Citing federal statistics, the study also reports that 24.6 percent of retail sales people and 16 percent of bartenders now have college degrees. Overall, 48 percent of the 41.7 million working Americans with college degrees have jobs that don’t require such degrees, and thus don’t pay like they do.

Again, it’s important to note that these are not just the result of the Great Recession, which means they aren’t temporary. These are trends that have been playing out for 40 years and show every sign of continuing. In essence, we’re trending toward a lottery economy. Getting a college education may buy you a ticket in the lottery, but the percentage of winners shrinks each year, even as the payoff from winning soars.

And those who lose out in that lottery still have college loans to pay back on an income that a high-school graduate could have gotten. The rules of the game are changing.

Of course, those of you with a 20-something back home already know all this.

Jay Bookman generally writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow. Connect with Jay Bookman on:Twitter Facebook. Send Jay Bookman an email.