Only 3.3% of Recent College Grads Unemployed, But…

The New York Times reports a relatively small proportion of young Americans work by international standards, and suggests it may be because we are lagging in educating college students, since college graduates have low unemployment rates (3.9 percent in April for all college grads). There are several problems with this conclusion.

First, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) treats unemployment like pregnancy (you are, or you are not), in reality there is a world of difference between working 20 hours a week at McDonald’s making $175 weekly, or 45 hours at Google or a major accounting firm making $1,500. Yet the BLS records them the same for employment statistics purposes.

Second, college grads are increasingly taking low paying unskilled jobs -and forcing those with high school diplomas into the ranks of the unemployed. Increasing further the proportion of young Americans with college degrees would aggravate this problem. We have more young college graduates than needed to fill the professional, managerial, and technical jobs that are high paying and traditionally have required a degree.

Third, increasing the number of college graduates further would lead to more increases in unemployment of those with lesser education, not materially increasing the aggregate proportion of young American working.  Long term, young Americans are like older Americans -working less, in large part because various perks of the welfare state (e.g., Food Stamps, generous disability payments, extended unemployment benefits, even the Pell Grant/student loan programs) are turning more workers into wards of the state.

Richard Vedder

Richard Vedder teaches at Ohio University and is the author of "Restoring the Promise: American Higher Education Today."

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