Monday, June 1, 2015

What is “Underemployment”?

Today, I will focus on underemployment for recent college grads, whose hopes and aspirations will likely fall short of what they expected. With college enrollments more than doubling in just under 15 years, but most degrees not adding the in-demand skillsets America needs to grow, we are living in the era of baristas with PhDs, waitresses who teach college classes part-time, and sales clerks with extreme knowledge of Elizabethan literature. Half of recent grads are either jobless or underemployed. Math, science and engineering are intimidating to many college students, but that’s where the job demand is.
And too many “universities” are graduating students even in these desirable categories that reflect, putting it charitably, achievement levels that are common at a high school level in Europe or the key cities in Asia. They’re just not providing the quality of education that employers need to be globally competitive.
What’s equally challenging is that some areas of the country have severe labor shortages while others boast few jobs with an oversupply of qualified applicants. Making the problem worse is that in high-skill cities – California’s Bay Area, New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Seattle, etc. – have exceptionally high housing costs. For those who live in areas with minimal job opportunities, the innate desire to stay where you grew up (with friends and habits long formed) has to be overcome by a pragmatic move to an area of opportunity. But living at home vaporizes with that move. When graduates face such underemployment, what should they do?
“Stephen Brown, the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has a simple answer: They leave. ‘There is a strong desire to stay where one grew up, but part of the U.S. experience is moving,’ he said. ‘Those students who do best are those who will relocate to cities demanding educated workers.’
“Yet underemployment is a national phenomenon; as many as 22 million Americans fall into the category. Once considered a rite of passage, it now extends later into the average graduate’s working life, and the longer it lasts, the greater threat it poses. The more low-skill work we compile on our résumés, the less likely we are to convince employers we’re qualified for something else.
“Much ink has been spilled over how choosing the right major is crucial to avoiding underemployment. Talk to sociology majors graduating this month; I doubt they’re expecting to go straight into high-paying jobs. And it’s no secret that graduates of elite universities, whether they studied astrophysics or English, have better career trajectories than those from lower-tier schools.
“But when it comes to [many] students…, pursuing a humanities degree or maxing out student loans for the best available education are not options. They don’t always have the luxury to prioritize the intellectual experiences offered on a college campus over the monetary ones that demand their attention away from it. Their choices are shaped by immediate economic concerns more than their hoped-for, dreamed-of careers.
“Even many career-building options are out. During a résumé-drafting project, a student approached [his professor] in tears, explaining that he could not afford to forgo his minimum-wage job to take an unpaid summer internship or semester abroad, even though it would bolster his résumé and foster professional connections.” College Lecturer (UNLV) Brittany Bronson writing for the May 25thNew York Times. We’ve betrayed our kids with high tuition, absurd student loan burdens, false promises of a bright future based on hard work but based on a second rate education from primary to college. When will we care enough about the next generations to equip them to succeed?
I’m Peter Dekom, and I simply wonder where will we be if we do not address these obvious problems now.

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