Even as President Obama proposes some steps for student debt relief, real wages for college graduates continue to plunge. In the third quarter of 2011, full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree and no advanced degree earned 3.5% less, in real terms, than a year earlier. Male college graduates saw their real wages fall by 5.3% over the past year, while female college graduates had a 1.4% decline.
The charts below, also from Mandel, show the trend over the past decade. The net value of health insurance for these grads has increased about $2,000 in real terms since 1999, so even when you take that into account they’re still seeing a steady drop in earnings.
College grads, of course, are still doing better than everyone else, both in terms of salary and levels of employment. Still, one of the big memes of the past decade has been about the growing complexity of modern jobs and the urgent need for more educated workers. More recently, this has sometimes turned into a story about structural unemployment: the Great Recession is all about the fact that we have too many of one kind of worker (mostly semi-skilled high school grads) and too few of another (knowledge-savvy, symbol-manipulating college grads). So we need to upgrade our educational system to provide us with more of the latter. But if there were really an urgent need for a more educated workforce, surely the salaries of college grads would be going up? Instead, they’re going down. What exactly does this tell us about the demand for highly educated workers?