The opening question of the second Presidential debate, a town hall style forum where audience members directly posed questions to both candidates, came from a 20 year old college student looking for assurances about his job prospects upon graduation from college. “All I hear from professors, neighbors, and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment,” Jeremy Epstein lamented. “What can you say to reassure me…that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate? “ It is fair to say that Mr. Epstein is not alone in this concern; in fact, it seems that more and more recent college graduates are struggling to find work, with many of them accepting unpaid internships or low-paying jobs for which they are over qualified. In this election season, young voters are turning to either President Obama or Governor Romney for answers. While it remains unclear whose policies will be best for this particular demographic, what is clear is that changes need to happen now.
The numbers do not lie. A college diploma just does not hold the same value it once did. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Economic Policy Institute’s report on the labor market for recent college graduates, which stated that the overall unemployment rate for young people under the age of 25 is over twice as high as the national average, at 16.4%. The Associated Press has reported even more alarming figures, claiming that “1.5 million, or 53.6%, of bachelor’s-degree holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed”. Too many college graduates are living back at their parents’ homes, spending their days applying to as many jobs as possible and finding few cracks in the walls blocking them employment. These are the same people who have proven they have the skills, knowledge, and determination to obtain a college degree. And while this is still seen as an essential asset to employers when considering job applicants, having a college diploma in hand hardly seems to be enough to land a job in today’s economic climate.
A Bachelor’s degree is still required for many salaried, entry-level positions, but as the number of degree-holders has increased, it is rarely the only necessary item on a desired applicant’s resume. In today’s day and age, a diverse resume loaded with professional experience is just as important as that degree. However, the problem lies in finding those opportunities to gain professional experience when one has little or none to begin with. As a result, more and more students are turning to unpaid internships in college to further their qualifications and get them ahead when it comes time to hit the job market. For those that choose to wait, it may mean a period of time spent living back in their parents’ home, working for little to no pay, and waiting for that better opportunity to finally come along. This holds especially true for architecture, arts and liberal arts majors, whose unemployment levels are generally much higher than those with degrees in technical fields . While many of these degrees are seen as fantastic preparatory work for more advanced degrees, they do not do much to distinguish an entry-level resume from the stack.
As someone with a degree in History, who spent his summers in college working for a summer camp rather than professional internships, it is easy to relate to those in my age demographic still seeking that job offer. The months spent wondering where life will lead you next, and wanting to know when you will have that shot, can be difficult to bear. Though I managed to recently defy the high unemployment rate for my age demographic and find an employer, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. For every friend who has started his career successfully, there is another who is struggling with what to do next after college. The question of whether or not one should start working or go back to school is ever present, and unfortunately, with graduate school tuitions rising and job assurances sketchy at best, the answer is not readily apparent.
America’s youth are not facing this problem alone, however. All over Europe, young people face sky-high unemployment rates for their demographic in their respective countries. Nowhere is this worse than in Spain, where the general population unemployment rate is over 25% while over 50% of its young people under the age of 25 are unemployed. In addition, the unemployment rate for young people in the entire European Union is over 20.9%. So while this data shows that the problem is not solely an American one, and certainly is much worse in other parts of the world, it also serves as a reminder that this is a sign of a large-scale generational issue. The data for Europe should wake up America; regardless of political affiliation, no one wants to see over a fifth of our young people unemployed. It is time we work to solve this problem, before the cost of a college degree exceeds its potential worth.
The course of the next four years will be set this coming Tuesday, and all over America, young voters will cast a vote for who they believe offers them the best chance at a brighter future. Unfortunately, the decision is not clear. How can it be, when college tuition is rising, unemployment remains high amongst those under 25, and competition for jobs is so fierce that who you know often counts more than what you know? Some will opt for President Obama’s vision; they will point to his record of increasing funding for Pell Grants and making college possible for more Americans as a sign that he cares for the plight of America’s young professionals. Others will argue against his handling of the recession, saying they are the root of this demographic’s employment issues. They will point to Governor Romney’s laissez-faire economic plan and argue that he understands what this economy needs. When the economy bounces back, so the belief goes, the jobs will come for all age demographics.
The belief here is that this problem transcends the plans of either candidate. There is no guarantee that Governor Romney’s proposals will indeed revive the economy and therefore increase hiring among recent college graduates, just as there is no consensus that President Obama’s policies will help or hinder the ongoing recovery from the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Therefore, each voter must decide which candidate will best help him in his own life. As someone who is under the age of 26 and living with a pre-existing condition, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act has had a direct positive impact upon this writer, both financially and in the form of better health insurance. Having a vested interest in the success of this law is enough to swing my vote to the President. That said, whoever wins this election has a growing problem on their hands, one that needs to be righted before our young people face unemployment levels seen across Europe. Both candidates have made it clear that they want America to remain the strongest democracy in the world, a model for other nations. What is also clear is that the key to ensuring our nation’s future lies in harnessing all of the resources at our disposal, and this means investing in the skills of our young voter demographic. More and more people attending college means we have more and more talented individuals ready to contribute; it is time we used all the means at our disposal to further the prosperity of this great country.