Moral Low Ground


Median Starting Salary for U.S. College Grads= $27,000. Median Student Loan Debt= $20,000

May 20, 2011 by Brett Wilkins in Debt, Economy, Education with 0 Comments

It’s not a good time to be graduating college in the United States.

The New York Times reports a dismal employment outlook for new grads, even as they rack up tens of thousands– sometimes even hundreds of thousands– of dollars in student loan debt.

The median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges and universities in 2009 and 2010 was a paltry $27,000, a 10% decline over 2006-2008 figures. The median student loan debt racked up by those same students was $20,000.

Those are just the ones who were fortunate enough to actually find jobs after graduation. According to the Times, just 56% of 2010 grads were able to find jobs by the following spring, compared to 90% of the classes of ’06 and ’07. Worse yet, only around half of recent grads say their first job even required a degree.

Congrats… and good luck. (Photo: Nazareth College)














So, is it still worth it to get that college degree? The answer seems to be a qualified “yes.” It really depends on what you’re majoring in. Education majors and engineers are most likely to find work in their field of study. But those who chose to major in area studies– think ethnic or gender studies– or humanities were least likely to be employed in jobs that require degrees– or employed at all.

Still, having a degree is usually better than not having one at all. “The less schooling you had, the more likely you were to get thrown out of the labor market altogether,” Northeastern University economist Andrew M. Sum told the Times. Sum pointed out that unemployment rates for those with only a high school education are much higher than for college grads.

But advanced degrees do not necessarily mean better employment prospects. Just ask the countless law school grads who are underemployed or unemployed due to a massive oversupply of J.D.s. Their debt burden can soar as high as $250,000, and many feel like those people who bought homes they couldn’t afford during the real estate bubble of the 2000s thinking they’d just make their money back (and then some) when they sold their place later on.

There are plenty of law school grads, and every other type of college grad, working jobs they never imagined. The Times analyzed Labor Department data and found that the number of college grads aged 25-34 working in food service, restaurants, bars, gas stations, grocery stores and in taxi and limousine services has jumped by around one sixth. Not only is this less than ideal use of a college degree, it also displaces those workers without degrees who would usually do these jobs.

It’s no wonder then, that many young adults have taken the “professional student” path, hoping to wait out the crappy economy while advancing their level of education. For, those who do decide to accept lower-paying jobs may have a difficult time moving up the pay scale later on. “Their salary history follows them wherever they go,” Carl Van Horn, a labor economist at Rutgers University, told the Times. “It’s like a parrot on your shoulder, traveling with you everywhere, constantly telling you, ‘No, you can’t make that much money.'”

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