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One in Two College Grads Are Jobless or Underemployed

The class of 2012 is about to get a gigantic wake-up call.

It may not be news to the 1.5 million college graduates struggling to find a job or toiling behind café counters, but Northeastern University researchers break it down: 53.6 percent of bachelor's degree-holders under age of 25 were jobless or underemployed last year, the highest percentage since the dot-com bubble of 2000. In the last year, college graduates were more likely to be employed as servers, bartenders, and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists, and mathematicians combined. The class of 2012 is about to get a gigantic wake-up call.

Unsurprisingly, the college majors least likely to yield a job were zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history, and humanities, intimating that practical degrees like accounting and teaching were the way out of grim post-graduate job prospects. This is certainly true, but it's a short-sighted way of thinking about our problem. We need to stop undervaluing creative fields as a culture and pressure politicians to support education and the arts. Perhaps if the government didn't keep whittling down allocations to state universities, these humanities grads wouldn't be so paralyzed by debt and could pursue their creative impulses—or score a tenure-track position with a Ph.D.

And we need to invest in our service sector. According to these new numbers, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of openings by 2020 will require a college degree—teachers, college professors, and accountants. The lion's share of those openings will be in retail sales, fast food, truck driving, and caregiving, especially as Baby Boomers age. The dilemma of the low-wage service worker is one of the few instances when that famous Millennial sense of entitlement comes in handy. Like it or not, our generation will be in these jobs for a while—so let's work to make them better. Let's push our legislators to raise the minimum wage. Let's start demanding that our government invest in education, but let's also be real about how many of us can afford to be drowning in debt after a four-year college degree.

Mobilization works: The scrappy, Millennial-led Jimmy John's union I profiled in March just won the case against their employer. That doesn't mean everything is perfect—they're staring down a long road of appeals, and a year's back pay is cold comfort for someone who's been unemployed for a year. Still, it's a glimmer of hope. Sometimes, people listen to the squeaky wheels.

Photo by Benjamin Innes

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