Magazine article Information Today

The Underemployment Boom

Magazine article Information Today

The Underemployment Boom

Article excerpt

"I don't even know what I'm looking for," says Michael Bledsoe, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.

--"1 in 2 New Graduates Are Jobless or Underemployed" by Hope Yen, Associated Press, April 22, 2012

I feel bad for young people today. I am a mother to two of them.

I've seen how difficult it is out there in the dismal job market, where so many college students rack up thousands and thousands of dollars in student loans, and then, they can't find a job that pays much more than minimum wage once they graduate.

This isn't to say that higher education isn't valued. The AP article cited at the beginning of my column noted the sad fact that young people who have a college degree, even in one of the "unmarketable" majors, are often preferred by employers for menial jobs in retail, food/hospitality, customer service, and so on; those jobs once went to students whose education terminated with a high school diploma. Thus, we have a boom in "underemployment."


Now, high school graduates who have furthered their education via a career-oriented program at a community college or through a trade apprenticeship are usually in a much better position to secure gainful employment. Nurses are always needed (since we have an aging population), and there is no underestimating the value of a skilled auto mechanic (since we have such highly computerized, complicated vehicles).

Where the Jobs Are

Of the 20 occupations with the highest projected number of job openings by 2020, only two require a bachelor's degree or higher, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( One of these is for elementary schoolteachers. The other? Postsecondary teachers, of course, because "enrollments at postsecondary institutions at all levels continue to rise" ( education-training-and-library/ postsecondary-teachers.htm).

Many of the other occupations on the list are gigs that cannot easily be outsourced or replaced by computers, including home health aides, janitors, tractor-trailer drivers, cashiers ... you get the picture.

As for college grads, not all of them are working at American Eagle or Starbucks. Some majors are in high demand. AP noted that those with nursing, teaching, accounting, or computer science degrees were most likely to have found employment suitable for their education level. Those who were least likely included zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history, and humanities majors.

Many of us who ended up in the library profession were arts and sciences majors in undergraduate school. My undergraduate degree is in business administration, another somewhat oversubscribed major that has produced a glut of underemployed office workers who have supplanted non-B.S.-credentialed clerks and receptionists.

The Changing Times

I remember thinking that a master's degree in library science represented job security, but we all know that times have changed. Special libraries continue to disappear, school media specialists are becoming an endangered species, and budget cuts have decimated public and academic libraries.

However, we can take comfort in the fact that we didn't squander even more time and money by going to law school, another refuge for undergraduate liberal arts majors. There are a heck of a lot of unemployed attorneys floating around who arguably would have been better off going to a community college and getting a paralegal certificate. …

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