This economic recovery is working for Uchechi Iteogu.
The 22-year-old graduated in May from Columbia University and is poised to start working as an associate account strategist at Google
in January. Though Iteogu can’t say for certain, she expects her background in health care — she started Columbia as a pre-med student — helped her land the job in the growing technology industry. And when she moves to San Francisco to start her new gig, she’ll have access to Google’s health insurance, retirement benefits and Google’s Silicon Valley-style suite of perks.
“I am very, very comfortable,” she said. “I’m being well taken care of.”
Iteogu’s situation is a far cry from the oft-cited anecdote of the underemployed 20-something toiling away behind a coffee shop counter, bar or cash register. A new report argues most of the jobs created in the recovery look more like hers than the proliferation of low-wage work associated with the economic downturn and slow rebound. That’s good news for college graduates.
Growth in so-called “good jobs” or work that pays at least $53,000 per year dominated the recovery, according to an analysis from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce released Monday. Of the 6.6 million jobs added between 2010 and 2014, 2.9 million, or 44%, were good jobs and 97% of those went to college graduates, the report found. Sectors like science, technology, engineering and math as well as health care accounted for the bulk of that job growth.
The report is a response of sorts to the prevailing narrative of a low-wage recovery that made it difficult for college graduates to find jobs that required their degrees. Instead, the Georgetown researchers found that college graduates experienced elevated levels of unemployment and underemployment during the depths of the during the recession.
But these so-called “good jobs,” the vast majority of which go to college graduates, came back first during the recovery. That’s consistent with economic trends over the past couple of decades, during which the wage premium for workers with a college degree grew substantially, said Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown’s center and one of the authors of the report.
“The economy as we understand it is still pretty much operating as it has been,” Carnevale said. The recession-era anecdotes of underemployed baristas and college graduates struggling to find jobs in their field are the result of the fact that: “It was a very hefty storm and everybody got a little wet,” he said.
All of the talk and headlines about the dearth of decent jobs made Katie Aune anxious when she set out to find a job in September 2012 after traveling for a year. She applied to several categories of jobs, tailored her cover letter and resume for each one and took pains to minimize the fact that she had taken the year off.
After about three months, she had five job offers and ultimately chose a gig working in the alumni office of a Chicago law school, where she receives health insurance, retirement benefits and multiple weeks of paid vacation. “I was flabbergasted,” Aune, 38, said of how quickly she found several jobs. “I was really stressed about it and it ended up being far easier than I anticipated.”
Researchers at the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy and research organization focused on the rights of low-wage workers, and elsewhere have argued that the college graduate working for the minimum wage or close to it, is may be a sign of the new normal, where the swath of candidates of all types competing for limited jobs means that firms can pay college graduates less. Their research shows low-wage industries drove the bulk of the job growth during the recovery at the expense of better paid work that disappeared during the recession, which means even some college graduates have to scrape by on meager wages . Young college graduates have seen their wages stay stagnant or decline since 2000, according to research from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank focused on worker issues.
Roslyn Edwards is illustrative of this trend. The 48-year-old has a bachelor’s degree in political science and an associate’s degree in education. Still, she’s earning just $10.50 an hour as the director of a Richmond, Va., day care center.
Many of Edwards’s colleagues nationwide have similar credentials; the share of teachers and assistant teachers in Head Start — the government-subsidized early childhood education program — with a bachelor’s degree was 55% in 2013, up from 38% in 2007, according to a 2014 report from the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California-Berkeley . But wages for the teachers and assistant teachers declined in real dollars during that period.
“My workers and myself, we all need more,” said Edwards. “We nurture these children to give them what they need to become the doctors and the lawyers and the teachers and judges.”
Despite the gain in high-wage jobs noted in Georgetown’s study, workers are still struggling under the weight of depressed wages, Christine Owens NELP’s executive director, said in a statement.
“With job growth overall strengthening, we would expect to see a better mix of jobs,” she said. “What we’re not seeing, however, is the robust across-the-board wage growth we need for a strong and sustainable economy that benefits all working people, regardless of where they stand on the occupational ladder.”
She added that she’s not surprised the two studies produced different findings, given that they used different methodologies.
Georgetown researchers analyzed job growth by occupation, whereas the NELP researchers tracked growth by industry. Georgetown’s Carnevale argues that that the latter approach belies the variety of jobs available in each industry. So even though the restaurant sector was responsible for a large share of job growth during the recovery, that doesn’t mean all those jobs are waiting tables. NELP’s research uses the median wage of each industry as a proxy for defining it as low, mid or high wage.
Georgetown’s research also includes a full year of data from 2014, a year when job growth picked up. NELP’s analysis stops in February 2014, which may account in part for the signs of stronger growth in high-paying jobs in the Georgetown analysis.
They do agree on one thing: Both sets of researchers came to the conclusion that many middle-wage jobs have largely disappeared. Both low-wage jobs and so-called good jobs are more plentiful than they were before the recession, but the economy still needs to add 900,000 middle-wage jobs to return to pre-2008 levels, according to the Georgetown study. The decline in solid middle-income work is largely due to the drop in manufacturing jobs during the downturn, Carnevale said.
That means that Americans with just a high school diploma working in manufacturing or another trade before the recession may have seen their job vanish. Many of the middle-wage jobs created during the recovery, such as those in the health care or computer fields, typically require at least some post-secondary schooling, Carnevale said.
“We don’t have enough jobs yet and that means that the college graduates are first in line and they’re bumping out the people who aren’t college graduates,” Carnevale said. “If you’ve got a high school degree and you had a good middle-skill job you were very much at risk.”
View more information: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/despite-tales-of-underemployed-baristas-it-still-pays-to-get-a-college-degree-2015-08-17