Until recently, a bachelor’s degree was a sure ticket to social mobility and a promising career. But today’s graduates face unprecedented headwinds in the form of declining wages, ballooning student debt, and greater competition for fewer jobs.
That’s the case journalist Jeff Selingo makes in an insightful new book, There is Life After College (HarperCollins). “The plight of today’s young adults,” writes Selingo, “is a result of a longer-term shift in the global workforce that is having an outsized impact on people in their twenties who have little work experience.”
Selingo presents his case persuasively. Young adult unemployment is at its highest point in four decades, peaking at 9 percent a few years ago. Of arguably greater consequence, nearly half of college graduates in their twenties are underemployed, beating out their less educated peers for barista and clerical jobs. With a glut of supply, employers can be choosy, leading to the increasingly common “unpaid internship” expectation, and other forms of “try before you buy” hiring. To make matters worse, student debt loads among recent graduates are at an all-time high and starting salaries are barely budging. While Mom and Dad once beamed when their child received his or her diploma, the uncertainty and instability of the early professional years now give parents reason to worry afresh.
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