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Low Wages for Graduates Encourages More Education

Posted on February 19th, 2013, by 1 Comment

In yet another dismal talking point about the job prospects for college graduates, they’ve been declining for six years.

Tyler Cowen recently posted a chart from the Progressive Policy Institute that tracks the decreasing average wage (benefits excluded) of college graduates since 2000:




As worrisome as the trend is, it’s probably understating the problem. It only

counts full-time workers, not part-time workers, and doesn’t address the underemployment of graduates. Especially since 2008, I’d expect

the trend to be more drastic.

The slide since 2000 could bolster Bryan Caplan’s claim that education works as a signaling mechanism; students are realizing smaller returns from higher education in the marketplace. Instead of gaining useful skills, the ever-increasing tuition teaches and prepares students for less.

Choosing to earn a graduate degree distorts the data as well; students who can’t find work after graduation decide to attend graduate school instead of joining the labor force in a low-paying, mismatched. If we look at graduate enrollment for 20-to-24-year-olds since 2006, it’s constantly increased:

 grad enrollment 2000 to 2011

 I’m unsure how to explain the average wage increase during the mid-2000s; perhaps more graduates chose employment over graduate school (and more debt), whereas more graduates chose graduate school instead of low-paying employment. Thus, with fewer graduates in the job market who took low-paying jobs, the wage increase wasn’t weighed down. Or, the market simply had an increased demand for graduates; from 2003 to 2006, United States GDP grew by $2 trillion.

If universities are over-educating students for jobs that don’t exist (regardless of whether economic growth lags or increase), students become over-educated, underemployed, and debt-ridden. They successfully avoid some pain in the short run for greater pain in the long run.

  • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

    Credential inflation like this is to be expected when we boost degree production across the board.

    Charts like this show that Hyper-inflation is biting those who have struggled to earn degrees, and it will continue. The question is, what will stop the drop in earnings? Yeah — think about it — what will stop this downward spiral, that is clearly out of control?