Jobs, Jobs Everywhere – But Not for the Lesser-Educated

News item:  the highest rate of unemployment in America is among the folks with the least amount of formal education


So, here is the real problem.  There are jobs going unfilled because the need for specific education is so high. And, there are workers ready to work, with lower levels of formal education, and there are not enough jobs for all of these willing workers

Brookings just released an extensive research project on this:  Education, Job Openings, and Unemployment in Metropolitan America.  Click through to download the full paper and the data.

Here’s the key finding:

Advertised job openings in large metropolitan areas require more education than all existing jobs, and more education than the average adult has attained. In the 100 largest metropolitan areas, 43 percent of job openings typically require at least a bachelor’s degree, but just 32 percent of adults 25 and older have earned one.

Notice this line:  “more education than the average adult has attained.”  This gets at the heart of the problem.

The study has specific figures for most Metropolitan areas in the country.  (The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area has way too few job openings for those with only a High school diploma, or less).

So, what does this mean?  It means this:  the jobs that are available are for the college educated.  But, the reality is that we will never see the time when everyone has a college degree.  Current High School graduation rates are about 75%, and that is misleading, because we have found ways to ‘hide” some dropouts.  And, I teach at the Community College Level, and I can assure you that there are a hefty number of students who simply will not earn a four year college degree.

In the 20th century, this country became an economic powerhouse because there was plenty of work to do for hard working folks who did not finish college.  That work is continuing to disappear (outsourcing; automation).  So, the challenge is twofold:

#1 – Get more people more fully educated (for the jobs that are available, needing workers).

#2 – Come up with new ways to employ the less-educated. 

I think we are investing more of our attention on the 1st, but the 2nd should be equally important.


And a side note:  let me encourage you to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s now classic book, Nickel and Dimed:  On Not Getting By in America.  It describes the actual work lives of the “invisible” among us.  (“Invisible” is the word used by David Shipler in his excellent book The Working Poor:  Invisible in America).  She describes the work demands, the work ethic, of those who serve our food and clean our hotel rooms and work in the jobs that the educated have “risen above.”

Ms. Ehrenreich is a highly educated woman, but went “undercover” to wok in low-wage jobs.  Here is one of my favorite, one of the most telling, paragraphs in her book:

Toward the end of my stay and after much anxious forethought, I “came out” to a few chosen coworkers.  The result was always stunningly anticlimactic, my favorite response being, “Does this mean you’re not going to be back on the evening shift next week?” 

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