How Do Recent College Grads Really Stack Up? Employment and Earnings for Graduates of the Great Recession

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Released: June 2011 • Economic Analysis

Related Topics: Education, Employment & Wages

Authors:

  • Adam LooneySenior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
  • Michael GreenstoneMilton Friedman Professor of Economics; Director of the Energy Policy Institute, University of Chicago
 
 

Introduction

The May employment numbers broke from the positive news of the last few months and revealed weakness in the job market. According to the Labor Department, payroll employment increased at its lowest rate in eight months, as employers added just 54,000 jobs. Private employment edged up by 83,000, while government employment fell by 29,000. And the unemployment rate ticked up for the second straight month, to 9.1 percent.

Not surprisingly to most Americans, these numbers indicate the job market remains tough, particularly for the nation’s young adults. College seniors graduating this spring will enter a job market vastly different than the one that existed when they started college. Indeed, when the Class of 2011 first enrolled for classes, the unemployment rate was below 5 percent.

In this context, there have been a series of recent news stories documenting the challenges facing recent college graduates in their job search. This has triggered new debate about the value of a college degree in the current economic climate. Are today’s college graduates really better off than their counterparts who did not invest their time and money in a post-high-school degree? 

For this month’s posting, we examine the most recent data on young adults age 23-24 — the “Class of the Great Recession” — to show whether those who chose college are better off in terms of both their employment prospects and earning potential. We also continue our look at America’s still growing “job gap,” or the number of jobs that the U.S. economy needs to create in order to return to pre-recession employment levels while also absorbing the 125,000 people who enter the labor force each month.


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