Why the Graduating Class of 2013 is Out of Luck
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College graduation is supposed to be a time of celebration--a time for graduates to look back on years of hard work and achievement, and forward to a bright future filled with promise.
Yet the class of 2013--the young women and men who were submitting college applications in the fall of 2008 as the world financial system came to the brink of Armageddon following the collapse of Lehman Brothers--are facing a future that of uncertainty and diminished prospects.
They are the latest entrants into what has been dubbed the "lost generation"--so-called because the high rates of unemployment and underemployment its members endure at the start of their working lives drag them down throughout their working lives, making it more and more difficult to maintain the standard of living of their parents.
Only half of recent graduates have been able to find a full-time job that makes use of their degree. Yet all are still left with the bill from college, with the average student loan burden nearing $30,000. With the number of new graduates expected to outstrip the number of new jobs requiring a degree over the next several years, this trend will only get worse.
If the current priorities of big business and the politicians who serve them continue to set the agenda, millions of young people will be robbed of their hopes for the future.
But this isn't inevitable. For most of the class of 2013, their best possibility for a decent future lies not in the rat race for ever-scarcer decent jobs, but joining together to fight to improve conditions in the jobs they do have and to demand a fundamental transformation of a system that treats them as expendable.
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A report released last month by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), titled "The Class of 2013: Young graduates still face dim job prospects," paints a picture of a jobs crisis for youth that has multiple layers.
To being with, nearly 9 percent of college graduates aged 21-24 who aren't in graduate school are unemployed, actively looking for work and unable to find it. This is more than double the rate for college graduates over age 25.
Those who have been able to find jobs are making less money. Average hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, for young college grads were $16.60 in 2012, the lowest they've been since 1997--when most recent grads were in elementary school--and just 25 cents greater than they were in 1989, before many were even born. Had wages kept up with the inflation-adjusted growth in the gross domestic product, which rose by 72 percent over this period, the hourly wage would be over $28 today.
Once student debt is factored in, there has plainly been an outright decline in living standards. The average recent graduate with $25,000 in debt pays between $200 to $300 a month, depending on their repayment plan--a huge burden given the stagnant or dropping income.
Recent grads are also much less likely than previous generations to find jobs with benefits. Just 31.1 percent of employed recent grads have employer-provided health insurance, compared with 60.1 percent in 1989. Just 27.2 percent have a pension.
An increasing number of college grads are working jobs that pay minimum wage. According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly 300,000 people with at least a bachelor's degree are making the minimum wage, double the number in 2007.
The lack of decent jobs with benefits makes it easier for employers to take advantage of young workers, who they know have few other options. Maria, a health care worker in Massachusetts in her early 20s, who earned her bachelor's degree while working full time, explains her situation: