Phi Beta Cons

Is Underemployment That Bad: Your Feedback

Thank you for the plethora of positive and negative comments on my underemployment post. When I post something, I always hope it’s interesting, but I never know which posts will generate some return energy.

With that in mind, many of you raised excellent points. I’d like to reply to a few of your challenges.

When you start talking about the same problem with people in their 40′s and 50′s with 20-30 years of work experience, taking 50% pay cuts because their unemployment is running out, you’re way out of line.

Agreed. My harsher adjectives are more intended as college-graduate tough love. Yet, “experienced professionals” is also too vague of a statement to form a generalization. Are we talking about 20–30 years of continuous work? Of work in an area no longer in demand? Of work in a desirable field with no openings? Each of these questions takes us down a slightly different road.


I don’t think you understand the situation a 23 year old finds himself today. He/she can no longer afford to move and get a job at Starbucks or Krogers. Having $80,000 of college debt tends to do that.

Yes, a person in this situation needs more income than one with a lower debt load. But as common as $80,000 of debt is becoming, it’s not the average amount for graduates. That number is closer to $25,000.

People are graduating from college, ready to assume adult responsibilities.  But since THERE ARE NO JOBS, they can’t do this. They’re staying at home, not getting married, not raising families, and looking forward to a very uncertain future.

I’m sorry if this is cold, but as another person noted, McDonald’s is still hiring. College students (including me when I was younger) are sold a bill of goods when they are told that if they do well in their classes, there are jobs there for them. That’s not always the case; past performance does not indicate future results. Regardless, schools do not admit students into majors based on labor-market supply and demand. If they did, the landscape of higher education would be much different.    

The problem is that if you are unemployed in your field, you may become unemployable in your field. Graduates with a degree in nursing or computer science who work as a barista for two years are passed over for a freshly minted graduate because the formers’ skills may be rusty or they were unsatisfactory if previous employers passed them up.

Yes, it’s harder to get a job in your major field once you cannot leverage your college career-services department. But, everyone can only play the hand in front of them. In a down market, individuals need to keep their skills sharp. If an unsigned professional athlete wants to play pro ball, he may coach high-school teams for income, but he will have to find ways to train, compete, and network if he wants to be signed by a professional team.   


Thanks again for the feedback. Keep it coming…


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