Anthony Carnevale Has Two Years to Reemploy 15.8 Million College Grads

Two years ago I made fun of President Obama’s ludicrous claim that “more than 60 percent of jobs in the next decade will require more than a high school diploma.” It appeared Obama appropriated the statistic from Anthony P. Carnevale’s paper for the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce (GCEW), entitled, “Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018.” It shrieks on page 22 that 63 percent of jobs created by 2018 would require a college education: 33 percent bachelor’s degrees, and 30 percent associate’s degrees or just some college.

As I wrote in January 2014, Carnevale and his colleagues reasoned that the BLS was holding occupational credential requirements constant when they should drift with times. As non-college jobs go increasingly to college-educated workers, we should consider those jobs as requiring college education.

If you’re scratching your head wondering if Carnevale is rationalizing credential inflation, then you have no hope of employment in a D.C. think tank. (Maybe you didn’t go to college?) In the fourth appendix, the authors merely counter-argue, “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.”

Thanks to the most recent publication of the BLS’s employment projections (tables 1.7 and 1.11), I get 15.8 million people with a bachelor’s degree or higher in jobs requiring a high-school education or less. On the bright side, that’s down 100,000 jobs from two years ago. That backlog won’t clear until the mid-22nd century.

It’s true that occupations can change and benefit from productivity advances, and many occupations do not require a single credential to enter them. However, the question GCEW should be asking is what jobs overqualified workers are taking. The answer isn’t too compelling.

Percent BA's in HS & Less Jobs

These twenty occupations account for half of the 12.9 million bachelor’s-degree holders working in high school or less jobs. These occupations dominate among master’s-degree and doctorate holders as well. Maybe some of these folks over 25 are in these jobs temporarily (they’d have to be for many), but at that age it’s pretty implausible that they’re on track for college-premium-magic careers.

Overall, 19.3 million college-and-higher people are qualified or underqualified for their work, and 27.4 million workers are at least somewhat overqualified, which includes PhDs working in bachelor’s jobs.

In contrast to the GCEW’s forecast, the BLS essentially says that 27.7 percent of the jobs to be created by growth and replacement over the next decade will require an associate’s degree or higher. (BA’s are at 20.5 percent.) High-school and less will account for 64.2 percent. Of the 46.5 million jobs that will be created, here’s a table of the top twenty, accounting for 16 million jobs.

TOTAL 150,539.9 160,328.8 46,506.9
Retail salespersons No formal educational credential 4,624.9 4,939.1 1,917.2
Cashiers No formal educational credential 3,424.2 3,491.1 1,523.8
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food No formal educational credential 3,159.7 3,503.2 1,364.6
Waiters and waitresses No formal educational credential 2,465.1 2,534.0 1,255.0
Registered nurses Bachelor’s degree 2,751.0 3,190.3 1,088.4
Customer service representatives High school diploma or equivalent 2,581.8 2,834.8 888.7
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand No formal educational credential 2,441.3 2,566.4 851.7
Office clerks, general High school diploma or equivalent 3,062.5 3,158.2 756.2
Stock clerks and order fillers No formal educational credential 1,878.1 1,971.1 689.0
General and operations managers Bachelor’s degree 2,124.1 2,275.2 688.8
Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners No formal educational credential 2,360.6 2,496.9 605.2
Personal care aides No formal educational credential 1,768.4 2,226.5 601.1
Nursing assistants Postsecondary nondegree award 1,492.1 1,754.1 599.0
Home health aides No formal educational credential 913.5 1,261.9 554.8
Accountants and auditors Bachelor’s degree 1,332.7 1,475.1 498.0
Maids and housekeeping cleaners No formal educational credential 1,457.7 1,569.4 459.4
Cooks, restaurant No formal educational credential 1,109.7 1,268.7 452.5
Maintenance and repair workers, general High school diploma or equivalent 1,374.7 1,458.1 443.7
Childcare workers High school diploma or equivalent 1,260.6 1,329.9 441.3
First-line supervisors of retail sales workers High school diploma or equivalent 1,537.8 1,605.4 411.3

Most of these jobs don’t look like they benefit from more education, but hey, maybe Carnevale will reemploy all 15.8 million college grads into jobs that fully utilize their credentials. He only has two years to make it happen.


  1. “If you’re scratching your head wondering if Carnevale is rationalizing credential inflation, then you have no hope of employment in a D.C. think tank.”

    No, it’s pretty simple. Carnevale’s Help Wanted report was funded in large part by the Lumina Foundation. The Lumina Foundation’s mission statement is to have 60% of Americans obtain college degrees or “degree equivalents” by 2025. Lumina was cofounded by an erstwhile student loan guarantor and Sallie Mae, and given $700 million in endowment by Sallie Mae. They want to increase the % of college students and graduates because it means increasing Sallie Mae’s bottom line. Pretty much the same reason Lumina is also funding think tanks that decry how unprofitable GradPLUS and PAYE are. Sallie wants back into the big-time loan balances to graduate & professional students. Those SLABS aren’t going to originate themselves, after all! Follow the money.

    1. What are you saying, Unemployed Northeastern? That Carnevale is rationalizing credential inflation because someone paid him to? That would make D.C. think tanks quite dubious indeed…

  2. What it even means for a job to require college is an important point that Carnevale glosses over. It’s not like there is something mystical about a Bachelor’s Degree that qualifies you to be an operations manager; that’s something that you get relevant experience for, and a slip of paper is required for some reason. Unless your major is in Business (and likely not even then), nothing you learn in college actually qualifies you for the position.

    People like Obama see this stuff as a clarion call to send people to college to earn whatever degrees (or alternatively and just as badly, we deify STEM degrees), as if that helps them in the job market. Education might give you a leg up, but without good job experience you’re going nowhere fast.

  3. But, surely there is value in postponing the entrance of all those college grads into the job market so that those with a High School only diploma have 4 more years to make up for not having a college degree in the workforce? 😉
    Besides, how will the government survive unless they can garnish the wages of under-employed college grads? Nice work if you can get it…

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