Do You Want Fries With That US College Degree?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 11/22/2010 12:01:00 AM
You've got to hand it to our American friends when it comes to exporting thigh-slapping, mock-serious deadpan humour. Take their econocomedian of a finance minister Tim Geithner with his utterly riotous "Strong Dollar" slapstick routine. Or, if you prefer something more tragicomic, consider the "American Dream" of home ownership that led to the subprime crisis that's messed up the world economy in the process. (Home prices never fall continuously, right?) For kicks, you can also try that Horatio Alger-ish "Land of Opportunity" howler in the OECD country with the second lowest level of income mobility next to one where they still call people "Sir," "Lord," and "Your Majesty." So, there are excellent reasons why Leslie Nielsen hails from America where they perfect this brand of deadpan humour given such patently absurd material to delude themselves with day in and day out.

Today, however, let's consider another truism that will have you rolling on the floor laughing (unless you're a newly minted US college graduate), the "University is the Key to Lifetime Success" shtick. Noted labour economist Andrew Sum offers this lowdown on the prospects of college grads after the US-induced subprime fiasco:
Young college educated workers, particularly those 25 and under, however, have not fared very well over the past three years. They have experienced rising joblessness, underemployment, and malemployment problems (i.e. working in jobs that do not require a college degree). During the January-August period of 2010, we estimate that fewer than 50 of every 100 young B.A.-holders held a job requiring a college degree.
And then come the structural problems that, to me, are highly reminiscent of certain European countries:
This growing problem of malemployment and joblessness among young college graduates has a number of dire economic effects on both the graduates themselves and many other young adults across the country. Those college graduates working in jobs that do not require college degrees are earning substantially less per week (30-40 percent less) than their peers who work in jobs that require college degrees. These substantially lower weekly earnings reduce the private and social economic return to college education for such individuals to close to zero. The presence of large numbers of jobless and malemployed young college graduates provides adverse signals to younger high school students contemplating whether to attend college especially among males living in lower income communities. The non-college labor market jobs obtained by these young graduates displace less educated young adults from employment, increasing joblessness among young adults with only a year or two of college or among high school graduates. This rising degree of malemployment among young college graduates, thus, has adverse consequences on the rest of society, pushing down the growth of real output and employment, wages, and earnings of the non-college educated. There is a critical need for national, state, and local political and educational policymakers and administrators to address this growing labor market problem.
This, of course, comes on top of steadily decreasing incomes among those who've pursued higher education. What to do? For those contemplating college, it's obviously important to look at labour market trends and ensure that you wind up with qualifications for occupations where they're still hiring. (Some of which do not necessarily require a college degree.) For those already with a degree who have trouble finding work, look abroad. And for public policy? I have begun suggesting an American iteration of the PRC's one child policy given the bleak US landscape. A still-growing population + few employment prospects = bad mojo.

Like almost everything else about America, you've been sold...a whopper.