College degrees no longer guarantee high-paying work

A new study released by the Economic Policy Institute says low-wage workers have far more education than they did in 1968, yet they comparatively make less money.

In 1968, 48 percent of low-wage workers had a high school diploma or GED diploma. Today, that number has risen to 79 percent. For low-wage workers with college experience – people who have some sort of college degree – the percentage of low-wage workers has more than doubled to 45.7 percent in 2012.

This increase in an educated, low-wage workforce has happened during a time when the federal minimum wage has decreased by 23 percent since 1968, according to EPI. All the while productivity during this time has nearly doubled according to the EPI’s data.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 4 million job openings at the end of November 2013. Our workforce is more educated than it has ever been, yet pay remains low for many educated workers. There is a gap between the skills employers need and the skills workers have.

While this is a large issue for many people who are trying to scrape a living together, it shows there are larger problems with the educational system.

Many employers are looking for workers with technical skills, yet employers have also reported a shortage of soft-skilled workers, according to a Bloomberg News report. Soft skills include the ability to solve problems, think critically and work in teams. To close the skills gap, employers are teaming up with philanthropies, governments and community colleges to develop the existing workforce, according to the Bloomberg report.

Since 2000, enrollment by 18 to 24-years-old in degree-granting institutions increased by 12 percent to 30.7 million students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. However, according to the NCES, the 2011 graduation rate for full-time, first-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at a four-year degree-granting institution in fall 2005 was only 59 percent. That number decreases to 31 percent for full-time, first-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a certificate or associate’s degree in fall 2008.

We are producing an educated workforce that lacks the skills necessary to function in the labor market. There is a rift between educational institutions and employers. For many, an apprenticeship or certificate from a two-year institution could yield significantly better job opportunities without the crushing debt of attending a four-year institution. However, there is a social emphasis on a four-year education, which seems to have diminishing returns in the job market.

To combat the skills gap and an educated, low-wage workforce, there needs to be a push to train and educate people for the jobs available. To do this, the idea of encouraging all students both young and old to pursue a four-year degree must end. There are jobs that provide both financial and career-long security that are not being filled. With almost 13 million Americans looking for work in July and 8 million more settling for part-time jobs, there needs to be a change in the way we not only educate workers, but educate them about the importance of their own education.

As more students pursue an education, the skills gap will only increase until there is realignment in educational institutions to produce employable workers.

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