Hard to Reconcile

At Brookings Martha Ross sounds what has become a monotonously recurrent theme with the same persistent conclusion. Millennials are finding it hard to get jobs especially jobs that pay enough for them to pay off their educational loans and the solution to that is more education:

Helping young people prepare to engage in work and life as productive adults is a central task for any society. But after the great K-12 conveyer belt of education ends in the United States, young people out of high school face a landscape of college and training options that can be confusing, difficult to navigate, and financially out of reach—and they also face a labor market that favors those with college degrees.

It’s a small wonder then, that some young people are struggling. In a new analysis, my colleague Natalie Holmes and I found that 17 percent of all 18 to 24 year-olds, or 2.3 million people, in the nation’s largest cities and counties are out of work. Nationally, there are 5 million such young people.

On the whole, their circumstances suggest a difficult transition to adulthood. Only 36 percent worked in the past year, compared to 69 percent of all young adults. Twenty percent left high school before completion, and another forty-three percent report that a high school diploma is their highest level of educational attainment. Only 17 percent are in school, compared to 53 percent of all young adults. (Since so many young adults are in school, and school enrollment affects labor market behavior and prospects, we did not include all students in the analysis.

I’m finding it hard to reconcile the various competing claims. Isn’t that just a more polite, more politically correct way of saying “We’re full”? The American workforce does not need more people with little or no command of English and limited skills. We shouldn’t be importing them and doing so pushes down the wages of other workers with whom they compete for jobs.

How in the world do we plan to to train people who won’t stay in high school long enough to graduate? Saying that such people need more education is facile.

To add insult to injury, I’m now seeing people with master degrees being hired to fill very ordinary positions that a couple of generations ago would have been done by people with high school only. The additional years of education don’t qualify them better for their jobs but it does differentiate them from people with less formal education and add a significant amount of educational debt.

7 comments… add one
  • Gray Shambler Link

    “We shouldn’t be importing them”
    Agreed, but they seem to be importing themselves.


  • bob sykes Link

    The main thing a BA/MA degree indicates is that the holder is willing to work towards a goal. That is actually a valuable asset to a company, and it explains why companies prefer them.

    It would be even nicer if the degree holder actually had some education and skills, but you take what you can get.

  • I’m not so sure that’s true any more, bob. I think it may just demonstrate a willingness to pay using money that at least initially is thought as being someone else’s.

  • Gray Shambler Link

    I’m repeating myself, but the degree helps HR sort though large numbers of applicants. Quite probably missing some great applicants.

  • steve Link

    “I’m now seeing people with master degrees being hired to fill very ordinary positions that a couple of generations ago would have been done by people with high school only.”

    What kind of jobs would those be? I dont see that in health care, at least in our organization. I guess some people might point to nurses heading towards a BA degree, but I have always thought there was a quality difference between the 2 year programs and the degree programs.


  • Clerks, programmers, secretaries. The secretaries are called “assistants” (or even some outre title like “VP of Process Improvement”) but they’re secretaries.

  • steve Link

    Really? We have no clerks with Master’s degrees. Only the senior programmers ever have a Master’s. Our VP of PI needs to have a good grasp of medical issues, resources and management process. Work with her often. Cant remember is she has an advanced degree. At least in medicine if you actually care about process, I guess they dont in your industry, the person should have a deep well of education and experience.


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