Underemployment Rates Improve, With Positive Outlook for College Graduates

Posted By Eliana Osborn on December 23, 2015 at 9:50 am
Underemployment Rates Improve, With Positive Outlook for College Graduates

In the dark days of the 2008 recession, even having a college degree was no guarantee of finding a decent job.  Unemployment rates skyrocketed; fewer young grads were working in 2008 than in 2000 and even fewer were employed in 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).  When underemployment comes into the equation, things look even more dire.

A recent report out of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce defines underemployment as “workers… who want a job but don’t have one as well as those who want a full-time job but only have a part-time job.” These researchers note significant improvement in underemployment for those holding at least a bachelor’s degree.

Underemployment rates were highest in 2010, at 17% of the population.  For graduates, the highest level (that same year) was over 10%. Today, those without a degree have underemployment rates double the number for graduates—13% and 6% respectively.

2015 unemployment is around 5% generally, and under 3% for bachelor’s degree holders.  Young college graduates are employed at the highest rate in the last six years, leading Bloomberg Business to wonder if we may run out of such candidates to fill jobs.  These are promising statistics for current students and their families, worried about the post-graduation job market.

2008 graduates had the most difficult entry to the job market, with only 64% in full-time employment a year after earning degrees.  This was dramatically reduced from 2000 graduates’ rate of 78%.  This led to more 2008 college graduates enrolling in post-graduate programs, earning nearly 20% less and taking jobs in fields unrelated to their degrees.

While any job might be better than nothing, underemployment is a concern, especially considering the high cost of earning a college degree.  In the midst of the recession, some wondered if the opportunity costs for college made sense.  According to a recent report by the Institute for College Access and Success, student loan debt continues to increase nationwide—and not just at for-profit schools.  $29,000 is the average debt for 2014 graduates.

Across all economic conditions, races, and income levels, however, college graduates continue to fare better in the job market than those with some or no college education.  NCES data does show that males tend to have higher employment rates, regardless of level of schooling.

Worries about finding a job after college graduation are normal for new students.  No one can predict future market conditions, but all data point to continued employment advantages for those with a bachelor’s degree.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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