We live in a country that increasingly appreciates skilled workers, but leaves less opportunity for unskilled workers.
Most high school graduates have few marketable skills and must settle for jobs paying less than $10 per hour, if they can find work at all. The high paying union manufacturing job that their parents found upon graduating from high school is rare indeed. Labor intensive assembly jobs have been outsourced to third world countries, where production costs are lower. Those lower production costs lead to lower prices for American consumers, and believe me, American consumers enjoy low prices!
Unfortunately, college graduates often waste their money majoring in subjects that have little value in the market. Majors like history, English, psychology, theater, music, and women’s studies do not produce tangible skills needed in our technological society. I refer to these degrees as “non-skilled” degrees. In the 1970’s banks hired history majors by the thousands and made them into loan officers. Today a few history majors are still hired as bank loan officers, but banks need fewer people today than they did 30 or 40 years ago. More and more college graduates work in jobs that can be done by high school graduates. The music major with a four year college degree finds employment after graduation as a check-out person in a grocery or a department store clerk. This results in low wages and disillusionment for millions of non-skilled college graduates. For them the old adage is true; “Show me me your college degree and $1.59 and I’ll give you a cup of coffee.”
Today’s college graduates majoring in mathematics, engineering, finance, computer science, accounting, and management information systems bring definable skills to the market place. I call these “skilled” college degrees. Those holding skilled degrees start at salaries in the $50,000 range and normally reach six figure incomes within five years of employment. Their futures are bright and their earnings are secure, even in a changing world.
Where have all the jobs gone? The good jobs are still here, but they require highly skilled people to fill them. The United States depends upon graduates from Asian countries to attract highly skilled talent. The earnings differential between those holding skilled jobs and those with non-skilled jobs has widened sharply over the past 30 years. The “haves” are educated in engineering, finance, and the sciences. The “have-nots” are those who did not pursue education beyond high school or those who attended college with “non-skilled” majors.
Gone forever are the days when Johnny could barely squeak through high school and find a job making $50,000 a year working in a steel mill along side of his father. Liberal arts graduates are more likely to be hired by Starbucks than by fortune 500 companies. Now more than ever, we live in a world in which the highest paid people actually have to be able to do something.