College Grads Take Bad Jobs That Once Went to Non-College Workers

Friday's job report brought mostly bad news. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employers added 165,000 jobs in April, and the BLS revised estimates for prior months upward by a total of 144,000 jobs. The direction of job growth is positive, which is nice, but it is not moving at nearly the pace it ought to. As Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute points out, we need another 8.6 million jobs to bring the economy to full employment, meaning our jobs situation is, at best, "an ongoing disaster."

However, this ongoing disaster has not been evenly distributed, not even remotely. In fact, in the last year, workers without any college have actually lost ground in the job market to the tune of 542,000 less jobs. This is nothing new of course. Workers with high school degrees or less have not added any net jobs since the Great Recession began 5 years ago. The weak job growth we have seen has been concentrated almost entirely among college graduates.

This is not because all of the jobs being created in the wake of the recession are those that require college-degreed workers. In fact, around 44 percent of the job growth last month came in the retail and hospitality/leisure sectors, sectors traditionally open to those without a college education. What's happening then is the college-degreed are trickling into lower-paying jobs that the non-degreed usually occupy, leaving the non-degreed with fewer places to turn. College education has been a good individual hedge against unemployment, but if the college-educated are merely displacing the non-degreed, pushing more people through college will do nothing to solve the aggregate jobs problem.

The monthly trickle of weak jobs report after weak jobs report underscores the problems that Demos has been on top of for some time now. As bad as the jobs situation is generally, it is a full-on crisis for those without college education, especially youths, and especially people of color. Those with less than a high school degree have an unemployment rate of 11.6 percent. The unemployment rate for those aged 20-24 is still hovering around 13.1 percent, a tick below the Black unemployment rate, which stands at 13.2 percent.

These are the populations that a slow recovery really harms, and so it is understandable why stimulus and jobs are basically a non-issue at this point given the constituencies that policymakers actually serve. But so long as we lag significantly behind full employment, the youngest and least educated will continue to languish, the college-degreed will slip into lower and lower job classifications, and workers as a whole will lack the economic leverage necessary to capture higher wages. Even as the political climate has turned against it, we must understand that this is still a time where monetary and fiscal stimulus is absolutely necessary.

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