Economic ‘Recovery’ Still Leaves Female College Grads Behind

A new report shows women who have recently graduated college disproportionately struggle to find jobs in their fields, especially in the public sector.
By @MMichaelsMPN |
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    A waitress measures and boxes up food for a customer. (Photo by Alpha/avlxyz via Flikr)

    A waitress measures and boxes up food for a customer. About 60 percent of the employment increase for women from 2009 to 2012 was in jobs that pay less than $10.10 an hour. (Photo by Alpha/avlxyz via Flikr)

    Five years after the 2008 economic crisis, about 40 percent of all recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Month after month, however, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported strong job growth and decreasing unemployment after the economic downturn eliminated at least 7.5 million jobs.

    Researchers from the National Women’s Law Center tell a different story about economic recovery, claiming that as of July, there were still large sections of the population — about 4 in 10 — who spent more than 6 months looking for jobs without finding employment. The problem of underemployment disproportionately affects female job seekers, the NWLC adds.

    “From the start of the recovery in June 2009 to July 2013, the economy added almost 5.5 million net jobs, but needs to add millions more to accommodate the growth in the population since December 2007. The pace of the recovery has picked up for women after largely leaving them behind at the outset. However, heavy public sector job losses continue to slow the recovery for women,” the NWLC reports states.

    Earlier this month, on the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis, President Obama claimed that the U.S. economy was back on track and growing nicely. “We came in [and] stabilized the situation,” he said in a recent ABC interview. He cited 42 months in a row of growth, 7.5 million jobs created and a revitalized auto industry. Things may be ‘stabilizing’ for some, but many recent college graduates still report that it’s difficult if not impossible to find employment in their fields.

    Even before the 2008 recession, some had joked that a B.A. in degrees like English and Philosophy was a ticket to a job in a coffee shop. The NWLC report suggests that there may be more truth to the saying now than ever before, especially for female college graduates.

    Here’s a breakdown of some of the data. In January, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity reported that nearly half of the college graduates in the class of 2010 are working in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and 38 percent have jobs that don’t even require a high school diploma.

    Following this came news from the Wall Street Journal that there are roughly 284,000 college graduates earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

    The problem of underemployment, too, appears to be worse for women. About 60 percent of the increase in employment for women from 2009 to 2012 was in jobs that pay less than $10.10 an hour, compared with 20 percent for men, according to the study NWLC, which used data from the BLS.

    The gender disparities carried over into public sector employment. The NWLC added in its report, titled “Women Sharing in Slow Job Growth, But Full Recovery a Long Way Off,” that “heavy job losses in the public sector employment have slowed the recovery especially for women. From the start of the recovery through July 2013, women lost 458,000 public sector jobs.”

    By contrast, men lost 275,000 public sector jobs over the same period.

    Like many college graduates, Victoria Honard graduated from Syracuse University with high hopes of finding a well-paying job in Washington, D.C. She moved to the nation’s capital hoping to find work at a public policy think tank. Unable to find work in her field, she was forced to take a job as a waitress while she continued looking for employment.

    “The response has been minimal,” said Honard in a Bloomberg news report. “There are two ways of looking at it. I could be extremely frustrated and be bitter, or I can make the most of it, and I’m trying to take the latter approach.” Honard reports she applied to 20 positions but has not received any offers.

    Some policy experts say that Honard’s situation is fairly common. “Too many college kids are living in Mom’s basement, or working at Starbucks,” writes Megan McArdle, a correspondent for the Daily Beast and formerly for Newsweek. “Like most personal finance columnists, I get the letters from [college graduates]: what do I do? How do I fix this? For many, the answer is grad school. But I get the letters from grad students too.”


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