Guest Column

40 Under Forty class proves a point

January 22, 2016
| By Lou Glazer |
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Once again it was my honor to serve as a judge to select the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 40 under Forty class of 2015. I always come away from reviewing several hundred applicants with a sense of how impressive and diverse young leadership is in West Michigan.

I also am struck by how different their lives are from the conventional wisdom about young workers. You know the story line: If you have a four-year degree, not in a STEM field, you are likely to be underemployed and in a job that doesn’t pay enough to pay off your student loans and enjoy a decent standard of living now or in the future. Far better to skip a four-year degree and go into a skilled trades occupation.

What nonsense! Nearly all the 2015 40 under Forty have four-year degrees. And most of those are not in a STEM field. Most are working in non-STEM occupations and for non-STEM employers. None are in the skilled trades. Rather than on a path to “pauperdom,” they are on a path to be both prosperous and regional leaders. It’s good for their futures and for the region’s future that they ignored the advice of far too many political, business and media leaders.

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has just published two new studies that demolish what passes for conventional wisdom on job creation in post-Great Recession America. The reports demonstrate that the Business Journal’s 40 under Forty winners are part of a national reality, rather than the exception.

The studies are “Six Million Missing Jobs,” which looks at what has happened to employment from just before the onset of the Great Recession to now, and “Good Jobs Are Back,” which looks at employment since the Great Recession ended. Both are worth checking out.

Here are the highlights of what the Georgetown researchers found:

  • From December 2007, the month the Great Recession began, through September 2015, the economy has added 2.6 million jobs. Employment of those with bachelor’s degrees is up 8.1 million. Employment for those with some college or an associate’s degree is up 700,000. For those with a high school degree or less, employment is down by 6.3 million. So if you look at what employers are doing — not what they and their political and media allies are saying — they are overwhelmingly hiring those with four-year degrees.
  • From 2010, the year after the Great Recession, through 2014, the economy has added 6.6 million net new jobs. Of those, 2.9 million are good-paying jobs with wages of more than $53,000, compared to 1.9 million middle-wage jobs ($32,000-$53,000), and 1.8 million low-paying jobs (less than $32,000). So the new jobs are not predominantly low wage.
  • Of the 2.9 million high-wage net new jobs since the end of the Great Recession, 2.8 million went to workers with a bachelor’s degree; 152,000 went to those with some college or associate’s degrees; and 39,000 fewer people with a high school degree or less now have a good-paying job.
  • The net new jobs for those with bachelor’s degrees are up 1.3 million in middle-wage jobs and 756,000 in low-wage jobs. So yes, the economy has added some low-wage jobs that are being filled by those with a four-year degree or more. But only 756,000 out of more than 4.85 million net new jobs for those with a bachelor’s degree. For those with some college or an associate’s degree, which includes those with an occupational certificate, in addition to the increase of 152,000 in high-wage jobs, there are 827,000 more in middle-wage jobs and nearly 1.2 million in low-wage jobs. Not exactly the story we are told repeatedly that you can earn as much today with an occupational certificate or associate’s degree as with a four-year degree.
  • Since the end of the Great Recession, the economy has added 881,000 high-wage jobs in STEM occupations and another 445,000 for health care professionals and technicians. That is a little more than 1.3 million of the 2.9 million net new good-paying jobs. Nearly 1.8 million net new high-wage jobs were in a category called “managerial and professional office,” the kind of jobs filled largely by liberal arts and business majors. So much for “there aren’t any new high-wage jobs in non-STEM fields.”

Lou Glazer is president of Michigan Future Inc.

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