For some reason, last month the Orlando Advocate published the White House’s response to the petition drive to forgive student loan debt to stimulate the economy. I say “for some reason” because the administration’s response first appeared in October 2011, not December 2013.
Nevertheless, one of the administration’s factoids stuck out:
Over the past three decades college tuition has grown 10 times faster than a typical family’s income, making higher education unattainable for many; however, more than 60% of jobs in the next decade will require more than a high school diploma. It is more important than ever for Americans to get a good education to stay ahead in an increasingly global economy. [Emphasis LSTB]
President Obama parroted this line a few weeks later:
Now, I mentioned that we live in a global economy, where businesses can set up shop anywhere where there’s an Internet connection. So we live in a time when, over the next decade, 60 percent of new jobs will require more than a high school diploma. And other countries are hustling to out-educate us today, so they can out-compete us tomorrow. They want the jobs of the future. I want you to have those jobs. (Applause.) I want America to have those jobs. (Applause.) I want America to have the most highly skilled workers doing the most advanced work. I want us to win the future. (Applause.) [Empasis LSTB]
I love this line because it’s so absurd while scoring points on America’s trade paranoia. In Obama’s worldview high-paying jobs are a zero-sum game (but don’t worry “free trade” agreements are good for some reason).
Interestingly, the 60 percent figure is possibly an upward revision from the president’s 2011 State of the Union Address, where he said that more than half the jobs over the next decade would require a college degree of some kind. He emphasized the importance of having the highest proportion of college-educated workers in the country compared to others, as though that metric alone is a measure of “competitiveness,” whatever that means.
The 50%-60%+ figure raises an eyebrow, and I was curious where the president got it from. My best guess, and one confirmed by jurisdebtor’s comments here, is the LSTB’s old friend, the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce. In a paper titled, “Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018,” authors Anthony P. Carnevale, Nicole Smith, and Jeff Strohl argue that the BLS’s employment projections systematically underestimate the future demand for educated workers. So great will the demand for college education be that by 2018, the U.S. will be short 300,000 college graduates annually. Holy cow!
How does the GCEW arrive at such alarming conclusions? Well, you’ll have to turn to Appendix 4 for that. Really, did you expect such a crucial methodological disagreement that forms the backbone of the paper to be discussed up front?
BLS’ educational and training requirement data undercount postsecondary degrees by 22 million in 2008. This implies that 22 million workers are overeducated. The overwhelming consensus in the literature contradicts this. (127)
The primary cause of this discrepancy, according to GCEW, is that the BLS misses “upskilling,” e.g. auto mechanics today require more training than they did 30 years ago, but the BLS still classifies the occupation as one requiring only a high school diploma.
The problem with GCEW’s analysis is that the issue is not how much upskilling is going on in each occupation; rather, it’s the distribution of overqualified workers in each occupation. In other words, what occupations do the 22 million overqualified people work in?
Thanks to the BLS’s update of its employment projections, we have an answer. Here’re the top 20 occupations held by the 12.8 million underemployed bachelor’s degree holders that require a high school education and less. These 20 account for more than half of the 12.8 million workers.
Not seeing any auto mechanics here, but in fairness I can see some managers benefiting from a college education. However, Carnevale et al. are going to have to show why we should believe retail salespeople who have a bachelor’s degree are more productive than their high school graduate counterparts.
To give you some more bare numbers, for those with a bachelor’s degree and higher, 15.9 million people are working in high school and less jobs. The overall underemployment rate for those with any kind of college degree (including, e.g. PhDs working in jobs that require only a BA) is 36.7 million. By contrast the number of college-educated workers in jobs for which they are qualified or underqualified is only 20.5 million.
As for the future, of the 55.7 million jobs that the BLS now predicts will be created by growth and replacement by 2022, only 30 percent will require anything more than a high school diploma. 23.4 percent will require a bachelor’s degree or more.
In short, the GCEW has four years for 15.9 million Americans aged 25 and over with a bachelor’s degree or more to find jobs that fully use their credentials, to say nothing of everyone else who is still underutilized like well-educated nurses. The Obama administration, though it ends in 2017, has until 2020 for the prediction to come true.
Happy New Year. The college jobs clock is ticking.