Addressing the Hurdles to Landing a Good Job for America’s Youth

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 115 with Dr. Artem Gulish and Kathryn Campbell

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Addressing the Hurdles to Landing a Good Job for America's Youth - Changing Higher Ed Podcast

Addressing the Hurdles to Landing a Good Job for America’s Youth – Changing Higher Ed Podcast 115 with Dr. Artem Gulish and Kathryn Campbell – Authors of The Uncertain Pathway from Youth to a Good Job.

It’s taking students longer than previous generations to land a good job. That’s the subject of discussion in this podcast with Dr. Artem Gulish and Kathryn Peltier Campbell. Artem is a senior policy strategist and research faculty member at the Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) at Georgetown University.

As a Ukrainian national who came to the United States looking for a job during the Great Recession, one of the most challenging job markets in the nation’s history, he has faced challenges of his own in finding what he and Kathryn call “a good job.”

Kathryn is the associate director of editorial policy at the Center on Education in the Workforce at Georgetown. Together with Gulish, she co-authored an eye-opening report called The Uncertain Pathway from Youth to a Good Job. This study is core to the idea that because of the way our economic and political systems are set up in the United States, important connections exist between education and work. Previous reports have looked at questions of opportunity, but this study aimed to drill down into the differences in opportunities that exist depending on race, class, gender, and other factors.

Definition of a Good Job?

Gulish and Campbell define a good job as one that pays at least $35,000 per year and $57,000 at the median for young workers (ages 25 to 35) nationwide, with adjustments based on cost-of-living differences among states. That median means that half of those young people make less but are still considered to be in a good job. That may not seem like a very high bar for a salary, but most young workers don’t attain a job like that until their early 30s.

Compared to previous generations, only job seekers that have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher are consistently more likely than their parents or grandparents to attain a good job before age 30.

As Gulish and Campbell dug further into the causal factors behind this finding, they discovered many more disparities between people of different genders, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds. They also found differences based on major, occupation, and other factors.

The Rising Cost of Tuition and Negative Impacts on Low-Income Students

Surging tuition rates disproportionately affect low-income students in detrimental ways. As Campbell notes:

 

“The annual cost of tuition room and board at a four-year institution has essentially tripled since the late 1960s.”

 

Because of these ballooning education costs, non-wealthy students must rely on outside sources of funding to pay for college.

That means taking out student loans and absorbing the debt that comes with them. Those loans accumulate interest, and the longer it takes for low-income students to get a good job, the more that debt accrues over time. With a longer lag than other groups between graduation and securing a good job, more time goes by without paying off any student debt or accruing wealth, and low-income students spend longer waiting for the financial ability to make major purchases, start a family, invest in a home, and begin enjoying the fruits of their hard work.

Good Jobs Require Post-Secondary Education and Work Experience

Younger people today need a greater amount of education and relevant work experience to land a good job than did previous generations, and there are three main hurdles to meeting those requirements:

  • The rising cost of post-secondary education
  • Limited access to high-quality, work-based learning within education
  • The separation between student advising and career navigation services

 

There is limited access to high-quality, work-based learning for underprivileged students. Students who have gained access to these opportunities are mostly those with advanced degrees: 54% of graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher were found to have completed some type of work-based learning program. For those who hold lesser degrees, attended some college but did not earn a degree, graduated from high school, or attended high school but did not earn a diploma, the percentages drop substantially.

Getting a good job also requires students to navigate a bind: they must attain more post-secondary education than previous generations in addition to receiving relevant work experience, which most students can’t get without first having a job. Since working full-time while in school can be detrimental to student success, young people will rely more and more on institutions of higher education to provide avenues for quality work-based learning through different modalities:

  • Internships
  • Externships
  • Co-ops
  • Apprenticeships
  • Residencies

Institutions that cultivate partnerships with employers and work-based learning programs will be able to offer these important opportunities, especially to low-income and other marginalized student groups.

Integrated Counseling Can Help Support Vulnerable Students

Career counseling is often separate from academic counseling. Students, especially those with fewer resources, need integrated support and mentorship to persevere, graduate, and find meaningful employment that both sustains them and allows them to make positive change in their communities.

Meaningful relationships are crucial to helping students transition from one role to another. Integrating career counseling with academic advising is a major arterial for institutions that choose to bridge that gap for student workforce success.

The Lag in Transitioning to Good Jobs Has Long-Term Financial Consequences

In the past, it took young workers until about age 27 for over half of them to find a good job according to Gulish and Campbell’s definition. Today, it takes about three years longer or more, but once workers do hit that age, they become more likely to be in a good job than previous generations. The problem is that the longer lag in getting to a good job has far-reaching implications for the lives of these people.

The delay in finding good jobs has huge financial security impacts for students, especially those with low incomes and student loans, which often go hand in hand.

Gulish and Campbell’s analysis was based on large government data sets from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Center for Education, the Federal Reserve’s community development branch, the Survey of Consumer Finances, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, and other groups. This large amount of government data provided plenty of demographic, educational, employment, and other information that allowed Gulish and Campbell to take a deep dive into what this transition looks like for different groups.

Inequality Persists in Both Education and Labor Markets

Institutional inequality and discrimination, both in school and on the job, make it more difficult for many to find good jobs, especially black and Hispanic young adults. Women also face hurdles catching up to their male counterparts; although they outpace the previous generation by age 30, fewer women have settled into good jobs than men have by the same age.

 

“Young men do not outpace the previous generation until age 34. But throughout those years, young men continue to have a higher likelihood of having a good job than young women do, even though young women are doing better than the previous generation.”

 

Unequal Access to Valuable Work Opportunities

While low-income students may have some type of employment to supplement their household income, Gulish and Campbell discovered in their research that too much employment may do more harm than good. Working more than 15 hours per week can negatively impact low-income students’ grades and even their likelihood of graduating. Even without any negative effects on their education, wages across the country have stayed stagnant in the face of growing inflation. With limited access to entry-level jobs, low-income students simply can’t earn enough to pay any substantial portion of their school costs.

Low-income students who do work also lack access to the same opportunities as wealthy students. They are less likely to find meaningful employment that aligns with their educational major or desired career path. Wealthy students often have access to relevant and meaningful part-time work. That relevant work experience ultimately helps high-income students get good jobs faster.

“It’s really important that we make sure that low-income students are able to pursue their education while working, but not working so much that it harms their ability to complete their education.”

The Heavy Burden of Student Loan Debt

While student loans create financial stress for everyone, the weight of student loan debt disproportionately affects minorities and women. 86% of Black women who are college graduates at the BA level have student loans, compared to 66% who are white men and 42% who are Asian men. The median debt for black women borrowers when they graduate is $36,000 – that’s $7,000 more than the median debt among white men and $13,000 more than among Asian men.

“The biggest portion of the problem is student loan debt, which increased from 15% in 1989 to 43% in 2019. For those who hold that level of debt, the level has jumped from $8,000 all the way to $26,000.”

Lots of conversations are taking place about student loan forgiveness. Both Gulish and Campbell strongly believe that a targeted approach to student loan forgiveness, which would primarily help low-income, marginalized, and vulnerable students, would help level the playing field. But Campbell also notes that this would be “treating a symptom and not the problem.” The root of the problem, she and Gulish emphasize is that “higher education needs to be much more affordable.”

Programs Like STEM Must Be Inclusive

“We need to invite people in, not shut them out.”

Cultures of exclusivity hurt all people that don’t belong to the dominant group. Poor hiring practices lead to homogenous cultures and groupthink, and, in education, certain programs including STEM have a reputation of being exclusive.

Campbell and Gulish agree that programs shouldn’t be weeding students out, but welcoming them in. Diverse groups of minds create better solutions, innovate, and have the potential to solve problems that traditional methods have failed to change.

Three Takeaways for Higher Education Leaders and Boards

  • Ensure that transition points between education and employment are smoother for young people. This can involve efforts like developing partnerships with employers so all students can gain valuable work experience within their areas of interest and desired career pathways.
  • Offer better career counseling services to students and link those services with student advising instead of separating the two. This can ensure that students have the guidance and support they need as they make the critical transition from school to the workplace.
  • Reach out to student populations that are not part of the traditional or dominant groups. Marginalized groups and students with fewer resources need additional support to find good jobs earlier in life, and the onus is on institutions to fill the gaps that facilitate discrimination and inequality.
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