Friday, March 11, 2005

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES seems to excel at articles about the changing economy and how it has affected employment and financial security for the working and middle classes. Today the paper has a piece by Nicholas Riccardi about the disproportionate effect the sluggish job market has had on professionals with college degrees. Even at a time when the economy is starting to add jobs again, the people with bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees are not finding work, at least not in their fields. And often they can't even find work outside of their field.

The advantages of a college degree "are being erased," said Marcus Courtenay, president of a branch of the Communications Workers of America that represents technology employees in the Seattle area. "The same thing that happened to non- college-educated employees during the last recession is now happening to college-educated employees."

Even with better-than-expected job growth, 373,000 people with college degrees quit job hunting and dropped out of the labor force last month, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The number of long-term unemployed who are college graduates has nearly tripled since the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, statistics show. Nearly 1 in 5 of the long-term jobless are college graduates. If a degree holder loses a job, that worker is now more likely than a high school dropout to be chronically unemployed.

The LA Times article mentions several possible reasons for this.

  • The proportion of the population that is college-educated has risen over the past 20 or 30 years, so when large numbers of people lose work, more of them will be people with college degrees.
  • Back in the 1990s, when there was a huge demand for high-tech employees, people with the right experience and training were snapped up, in numbers higher than the market could bear when the tech bubble burst.
  • Highly educated workers demand commensurately high salaries, but the U.S. is an overwhelmingly low-wage, hourly service economy now.
  • The expertise and training required for the highly paid positions that are available do not match up with the expertise and training that middle-aged educated professionals have. And in this incredibly unstable economy, and with people being out of work for months or years, who has the money to go back to school for job training?
  • Much of the kind of work that the professional of 10 or 20 years ago is trained to do is the kind of work that is being outsourced now, to places like India.

This is a very depressing article to read, because it's about ME. I am one of those professionals with a college degree who can't find work appropriate to my education, experience, and skills. I worked for over 20 years in book publishing, but editors and production workers have been laid off in droves over the past two decades. And freelance jobs are becoming more challenging to find as well, because publishers are part of that mighty movement sending projects to India and similar places. So I sell books part-time at a huge national bookstore chain -- and I enjoy it. There are worse fates for someone who loves to read as much as I do, and who worships books as a physical entity, than working in a bookstore. But then again, it's not exactly what I earned a B.A. degree in English literature and gained years of experience in the New York City publishing world to end up doing at the age of 54.

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