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August 1993, Vol. 116, No. 8
Recent data on job prospects of college-educated youth
Media reports of poor employment prospects for college-educated youths are among the many disturbing stories to have emerged from the past recession. For example, Kevin Phillips, writing recently in The New York Times Magazine, referred to the poor job market for college graduates in New York City as one of the "economic circumstances" threatening the prosperity of the middle class.1
Many of these reports are largely anecdotal. For instance, references abound to the "boomerang kids" - the young college graduates that come back to their mothers and fathers because they are unable to find jobs. And few of us have not heard some account of how the past recession took a heavy toll on white-collar workers - especially highly paid corporate executives laid off because of "downsizing" and "restructuring." As a result, the notion has emerged that even for the brightest and most promising young persons, a cloud of economic uncertainty has rolled in.
Recently, this general impression became more concrete. In testimony before the House Committee on Ways and Means, Lawrence Mishel, research director of the Economic Policy Institute, produced statistical evidence showing that "the trend towards higher wages for college graduates ended in 1987, when the wages of college graduates began falling."' Much has been made, of course, about the growing pay gap between college-educated and high school-educated workers during the 1980's and its impact on income inequality. But according to Mishel, all was not well with the economic situation for college graduates either.
The following descriptive analysis examines the kinds of jobs young, college-educated persons have moved into in recent years and discusses whether those jobs have indeed changed in a qualitative sense.
This excerpt is from an article published in the August 1993 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 Kevin Phillips, "Down and Out; Can the Middle Class Rise Again?" The New York Times Magazine (Section 6), Jan. 10, 1993.
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