The Shared Discontent of the Working Class and Recent College Graduates


Writing for the World Socialist, Patrick Martin reports the findings not only of UC-Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez report on recent income growth for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, but also a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce:

“A second report issued this week, by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, examined social polarization within the United States from the standpoint of access to a college education. While 14 million new jobs have been created over the past 68 months (more than five and a half years) of ‘economic recovery,’ it is well known that the vast majority of these jobs are lower paying and more precarious than the jobs they replaced.

The Georgetown study found that these newly created jobs have been filled almost entirely by college-educated workers. Of the 11.6 million jobs created between January 2010 and January 2016, 11.5 million went to people with some form of college education. Some 75 percent of new jobs went to workers with a bachelor’s degree or better, and fully 99 percent went to workers with some college training. This left few or no new jobs available for those without a college education.

“The report argued that ‘workers with a high school diploma or less hear about an economic recovery and wonder what people are talking about. . . . Of the 7.2 million jobs lost in the recession, 5.6 million were jobs for workers with a high school diploma or less.’ The study found that high school-educated workers have recovered only about 1 percent of those lost jobs over the past six years, and have seen virtually ‘no growth among well-paying jobs with benefits’ during that period. There are 5.5 million fewer jobs for workers with no more than a high school education than there were in December 2007.

“This continues a longer-term trend, with a decline of 13 percent since 1989, a loss of 7.3 million jobs, available to those with only a high school education. The number of jobs held by college-educated workers has doubled during the same period, with the result that ‘In 2016, for the first time ever, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher comprise a larger proportion of the workforce than those with a high school diploma or less.’ . . .

“College graduates comprise 36 percent of the work force, while 30 percent of workers have some college education, and 34 percent have only a high school education or less. . . . Those who have not gone to college face a future of long-term unemployment, with little prospect of the decent-paying jobs their parents and grandparents once held. Those who have gone to college are employed, for the most part, in dead-end jobs for which they are overqualified, and where the wages are too low to allow them to repay their college loans. This year, student loan debt reached another all-time record, at $1.35 trillion.”

This study demonstrates that although a college degree may not guarantee that a graduate will find a good-paying job or that a graduate will avoid underemployment, the degree has now become a major factor, if not the primary factor, in finding any employment. The report not only bolsters the argument that a college education is now the new baseline credential—as necessary as a high school diploma was several generations ago to finding any sort of gainful employment–but it also goes a long way toward explaining the growing discontent both among working-class Americans who lack college degrees and among recent college graduates.


Martin’s complete article is available at:



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