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The College Degree: Your Ticket to Minimum Wage Misery
A college degree is supposed to be the ticket to the American dream, opening up the door to a decent paycheck and comfortable lifestyle. But analysis of current data is showing otherwise, with half a million American degree-holders working minimum wage jobs. What gives?

The Hard Numbers

Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their annual numbers report on education, income and other data, and the facts are startling:


  • 260,000 of college grads who left school with a bachelor’s degree couldn’t top $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage
  • A further 200,000 with associate’s degrees were also pitted into that category, making $7.25 an hour or less

    While it’s understandable that college grads should have a bit of a buffer time between when they graduate and when they find a “real” job (re: one that pays enough to comfortably live on one’s own), almost half a million college grads making minimum wage or less is astounding.

    Of course, one (half-baked) explanation could be they all graduated at roughly the same time and experienced buffer times that overlapped, but that’s neither highly likely nor particularly true.

    But there is a kernel of “good” news: those college grads with a bachelor’s degree who are making minimum wage or less is actually an improvement from three years ago, when 327,000 couldn’t find well-paying work.

    And it also doesn’t reflect how many college grads are working at state minimum wages, which could actually be higher than the federal number of $7.25 an hour. But minimum wage is minimum wage, and one of the points of going to college is to minimize the chance of falling into that category.

    What’s Going On?

    There are two main reasons for this:


  • The recession happened, and the eventual recovery period—which has either been expected or sluggish, depending on who you read—is inevitably painful
  • Too many people are becoming highly educated, leading to a market that’s buyer-heavy

    There’s no getting around recovering the economy after the recession, only a matter of how smartly and efficiently it can be done. The economic has definitively changed, and moved away from manufacturing. If American officials are smart, they’ll realize the American economy can thrive best under a “brainy” umbrella, where Americans use their minds instead of their hands to produce movement.

    The second issue of too many Americans becoming educated is harder to avoid. The current trend is to lock out the poor people (see: Paul Ryan’s proposed budget) to weed out applicants and graduates, but there are incredibly smart poor people, too. If this glut of degree-granting continues, there’ll continue to be more and more graduates with skills nobody needs.

    One More Bit of Bad News

    Minimum wage jobs are typically low-skill jobs, with the fast food sector possessing one of the largest groups. If the overabundance of minimum wages and unaffordable wages were a generalized problem, then you could reasonably walk into any fast food joint and see a microcosmic representation of America behind the counters.

    But that’s not the case: most fast food workers are black females, which isn’t representational of the American population at all. It means black females just aren’t getting the chances they need to succeed, and funneled into positions where their skills are either wasted or under-utilized.

    Something big needs to change if America is going to keep promoting a college degree as a ticket to a better life, otherwise the almost half million graduates who work at minimum wage jobs will only increase. For the amount of money they pay for tuition—and go into massive debt for—there has to be a stronger guarantee that their degree will actual equate into something more concrete and prosperous.


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