My Facebook feed has recently been filled with pictures from the class of 2016. My cousin Sofia graduated from the University of Florida, a friend received her master’s degree from Howard, and President Obama gave the commencement address at my alma mater, Rutgers University. The pictures and well wishes were full of hope and encouragement for these recent graduates.
Yet, a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute tells a different story. While the class of ’16 has more and better-paying job opportunities than earlier post-crash graduating classes, the report notes today’s graduates still face employment conditions that are worse than in 2007, the year before the recession, and are much worse than in 2000, when the economy was last at full employment.
This report focuses on recent high school (age 17–20) and college graduates (age 21–24) who are not enrolled in further schooling. Key findings include:
- Young workers always experience disproportionate increases in unemployment during periods of labor market weakness—and the Great Recession and its aftermath is the longest, most severe period of economic weakness in more than seven decades. Thus, unemployment for young workers has remained elevated.
- The vast majority (65.8 percent) of people age 24–29 do not have a college degree.
- Unemployment and underemployment rates among young graduates have improved but remain higher than before the recession began.
- Wages of young college and high school graduates are performing poorly—and have experienced little to no growth since 2000.
- The quality of jobs for young graduates has deteriorated in recent decades.
- The cost of higher education has grown far more rapidly than median family income.
The report correctly points out that due to poor timing and no fault of their own, the class of 2016 will likely fare poorly for at least the next decade. The authors recommend that the most direct way to reduce unemployment is through policy implementation. The Administration is moving forward with implementing regulations that they say will help the economy. Congress is focusing on improving education, holding hearings this week on both the Career and Technical Education Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act.
The graduates themselves can play a role. President Obama urged Rutgers’ graduates to actively participate in civic engagement. He noted, “…contrary to what we hear sometimes from both the left as well as the right, the system isn’t as rigged as you think, and it certainly is not as hopeless as you think. Politicians care about being elected, and they especially care about being reelected. And if you vote and you elect a majority that represents your views, you will get what you want.”
He went on to state, “That’s how democracy works. So you’ve got to be committed to participating not just if you get immediate gratification, but you got to be a citizen full-time, all the time.”
Take the opportunity help change the course for the class of 2016 and future generations. Sign up for GII’s Legislative Action Center to stay informed and take action so you can be an active citizen.