Higher education should guarantee job prospects

Lauren Williams's picture
Friday, August 16, 2013

Remember in the last few months leading up to the 2012 presidential election how everyone breathlessly awaited each jobs report? Any change, even of one tenth of a percentage point, was greeted as a glorious victory or a crushing defeat and extrapolated into a long-term economic forecast. What happened to all that attention? Or was President Obama correct when he suggested that the country should resign itself to the fact that a shabby economy is the “new normal,” at least while he’s in charge?

Just before the election the unemployment rate was 7.9 percent, and now, in the summer of 2013 it’s 7.4 percent, still well above the average unemployment rate before the recession. But aside from being fodder for a political football game leading up to an election allegedly focused on economic concerns, what do “jobs” numbers mean in relation to everyday life in the real world? What do these numbers feel like?

It seems lately that this question can be most easily answered by young people, because for them the numbers mean insecurity, fears about the future, hopelessness, and maybe a sprinkle of desperation.

Among the youngest group of youth interested in employment, teenagers, unemployment has jumped 5.3 percentage points from 2008 to 2013, from an annual average of 18.7 percent to 24.1 percent. Admittedly, the range of jobs one can hold as a teen is limited, but it used to be that a part-time job during high school and college was just a place-holder, an opportunity to earn discretionary income for movie nights and new clothes while cultivating a strong work ethic. And it also came with the promise that better circumstances were on the horizon once a college degree was earned.

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