The Majority of the Unemployed Went to College?

I've been collecting statistics on college outcomes, including unemployment, for a long time. I thought I had lost the capacity to be shocked, but I was wrong. Recently, Investors Business Daily reported that for the first time in history, the majority of jobless workers (57 percent) have attended college.


According to Labor Department data, of 9 million people who are currently unemployed, 4.7 million went to college or graduated and 4.3 million did not.

There are a few reasons for this puzzling trend. One, obviously, is the simple fact that so many people now attend college. If the majority of people go to college, when there is a recession, it makes sense that the majority of unemployed would include college attendees.

College is no longer something reserved for la crème de la crème, the top 10 percent, the head of the class, and the best and the brightest. An astonishing 70 percent of Americans now attempt college, and roughly half will eventually graduate. Currently about 40 percent of working age Americans have college degrees.

Of course, this statistic does not say that the majority of the unemployed are college graduates. It merely says they "attended college." Since college dropout rates traditionally, and stubbornly, hover around 50 percent, presumably many of these unemployed people have attended college without attaining a degree.

Americans today are exhorted to go to college by virtually everyone, ranging from their elementary school and high school teachers, to the media, colleges (naturally) and the president of the United States, who wants to raise America's graduation rate to 60 percent in the next ten years (adding 8 million more graduates). It is highly debatable whether this goal is achievable, much less desirable, considering that college appears unable to protect against unemployment and underemployment.

Of those who attend college and have an unfavorable outcome (dropout, failure to find a good job, or any job), we can surmise that they most probably came from the academic bottom half of the college-going population. Simply adding to the number of college graduates is not going to reduce the number of people from the bottom half. Half of the population will always fall below average, like it or not. This is an immutable statistic fact.

What we need are more jobs, to absorb the number of willing and able workers -- not more college graduates. That's where our focus needs to lie, rather than on increasing the number of indebted, and presumably disappointed, college attendees or graduates.