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Struggling for jobs: From college grads to workers without degrees

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With several major jobs reports to be released this week – including the grand finale on Friday of the labor department’s Employment Situation survey – it’s likely your readers and viewers will have a taste for another workforce or jobs market story.

From the long-term unemployed to the underemployed to grads (and their parents) worried about getting a career launched, finding the means to a paycheck is the topic of the year.  And lately, it seems much of the discussion focuses on young people unable to find a berth even as student debt looms as the next financial crisis.

This amazing Philadelphia Inquirer series, “Struggling for Work,” is worth a read not only for the narrative content but as a guide to stories you might try yourself. Use it as a treasure trove of excellent academic and other sources on workforce issues.  It’s a look at “stagnant mobility” issues facing the latest generation of young adults.

It’s hard to swallow some of the attitudes in the narrative, like the woman who feels betrayed because life hasn’t played out like the upbeat messages in “Sesame Street” or the guy who borrowed $80,000 for sociology and anthropology degrees, or even the premise that each generation should somehow expect upward mobility. But the level of detail in the stories and multimedia elements is definitely a bar to aim for.

According to a recent Associated Press report, half of recent college graduates in the U.S. are unemployed or underemployed.  It’s a headline grabber and definitely a woeful statistic. But it also made me wonder about those without college degrees. How are young people the same age faring with no diploma or degree at all?

I didn’t readily find data on very young adults, but as this Bureau of Labor Statistics table shows, people over age 25 with college degrees do have a significant advantage over those without.  Sorted by educational attainment, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 4.3 percent, compared to 8 percent for high school graduates and 12.6 percent for people who lack a high school diploma. 

A look at what jobs in your market don’t require a college degree – and what is available for those without a high school diploma – would be a good reader service and interesting reflection of the local economy.  And a local take on in-demand degrees, like this Hard Times report from Georgetown University (“Not all college degrees are created equal.”) would be another angle; it analyzes the earning and employment power of various degrees and majors. 

A survey, panel discussion or other poll of your area’s top employers about the credentials they are seeking would be a good follow to the news about unemployable college graduates.  Ask a dozen or so HR managers at top companies to describe the degrees and credentials held by the 10 most recent hires into entry-level positions, and about any other qualities or experiences that gave those applicants an edge.

Here’s my earlier blog post on the internships market, and here – as a sample of an interesting sidebar or social-media means for finding work – is a neat round-up from CareerBliss on handy networking sites. 

About the Author

Veteran financial writer Melissa Preddy served as a business writer, editor and columnist for The Detroit News from 1995 to 2008, is a Michigan-based freelance journalist. She now works as a writer and editor for a medical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Melissa Preddy

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