Recent federal data on unemployment in the United States shows, yet again, that workers with college degrees fare better than those without one in a competitive job market. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for college graduates once again declined in May 2012, while the unemployment rate for those with only a high school diploma increased.
According to a report by MSNBC, this “education divide” will continue to affect the employment chances for those without college degrees, “as the job market increasingly comes to rely on more skilled workers and has fewer options for people with just a high school degree.” When MSNBC asked Jack Downing of the job placement firm MRINetwork WorldBridge Partners about this trend, he revealed that while high school graduates are having a hard time finding work, college graduates with degrees in high-demand fields such as engineering and information technology are getting multiple job offers from employers. Employers even look for college graduates to fill positions that did not require college degrees in the past, because the high rate of unemployed and available prospective workers means that employers “have an option now, so they’re going to take somebody with a college education over somebody that’s not (got a degree). It shows a commitment to themselves. It shows that they can learn, and most likely are going to be committed to career development.”
This information corresponds to the unemployment report itself, which shows that the higher job growth areas are those which require at least some form of post-secondary education, such as health care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that
Health care employment continued to increase in May (+33,000). Within the industry, employment in ambulatory health care services, which includes offices of physicians and outpatient care centers, rose by 23,000 over the month. Over the year, health care employment has risen by 340,000.
The report also shows a decline in construction employment, one of the largest fields of labor that, while certainly requiring specific skills, does not usually require a specific college degree:
Construction employment declined by 28,000 in May, with job losses occurring in specialty trade contractors (-18,000) and in heavy and civil engineering construction (-11,000). Since reaching a low in January 2011, employment in construction has shown little change on net.
Hamilton Nolan summarized the new data on gawker.com by saying that “a high school diploma is a ticket to unemployment and hopelessness.” He cites a work trends report released today by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, which found that, of a nationally representative sample of 544 recent high school graduates, only “about half were able to obtain at least one full-time job since they graduated from high school.” Even worse, “only 30% report being employed full time,” for longer periods and “nearly 90% report being paid by the hour.”
The result is that even for those high school graduates who managed to secure employment, most of the jobs were temporary and paid barely above the federal minimum wage. This means that “it is likely that few of the recent high school graduates would have been able to earn an annual income of $10,890 to exceed the official federal poverty level for a single household.”
The New York Times pointed out that these dire statistics showing unemployment among those without a college degree shows that “whatever the sob stories about recent college graduates spinning their wheels as baristas or clerks, the situation for their less-educated peers is far worse.” This is especially true given recent figures that show that the unemployment rate for college graduates recently dropped to about 4%.
In many ways, these figures indicate something more than simple unemployment data. For many Americans, there is also the loss of a whole way of life. Having grown up in a family of factory and construction workers, I am aware that there is a certain pride in carrying on a family employment tradition such as working for the same company or mastering the same trade skills as those in the older generations in my family. While there is some slight good news from the report regarding minor growth in manufacturing positions, this is an increasingly disappearing way of life, and even for those who would prefer to go right to work after high school, in a traditional family occupation, there will be fewer chances to do so.
The complete data on employment by educational attainment is available on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, but all the data really boils down to one thing: in this precarious economy, a college degree does not guarantee employment, but it certainly helps. The real group of students we should pay more attention to is recent high school graduates, who are left with few options and a bleak future. For those about to graduate, college or some form of post-secondary education should be seriously considered as an option. In fact, a recent report from Georgetown University shows that “college-level certificates are sometimes more valuable than degrees” in terms of employment. If we refocus our attention on all areas of post-graduate education, we may be able to prevent the kind of hopeless situation that the Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicates.