TOPICS > Economy

Dog-Walkers to Dominatrices: Many College Grads Face ‘Malemployment’

December 3, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Conventional wisdom held that a college degree was a gateway to a better -- and better-paying -- career and lifestyle. But are those student loans worth it? Paul Solman looks at how a group of recent college graduates is faring in the dismal job market and how many are forced into "malemployment" jobs to make ends meet.
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JIM LEHRER: Now: the sobering job prospects for young college graduates and how they have changed since the recession.

Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, has that story. It’s part of his reporting on Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN: David Cook got a B.A. in anthropology in 2008. Unable to find work in his native Atlanta, he moved his wife and young son to Fort Collins, Colorado, earlier this year for a government job which looked like a sure thing, but:

DAVID COOK, college graduate: They said that they were considering hiring college students, local college students, to fill the positions as interns for free. So…

PAUL SOLMAN: With a family to support, he set his sights downward, fast-food manager, car detailer. He finally found work washing trash cans at $9 an hour, part-time.

DAVID COOK: I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I just feel like I devoted years of my life and thousands of dollars into developing specialized skills that I’m not using.

PAUL SOLMAN: We have done stories about unemployment, underemployment. This one’s about malemployment, the mismatch between college skills and real-world work.

Andrew Sum studies the labor market.

ANDREW SUM, Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University: Nearly half of all young college graduates — I’m talking about B.A.-holders under — 25 and under — only half of them are working in a job that requires a college degree.

The rest of them are working in jobs that either don’t — do not require a degree or not working at all. On average, by the way, their salary is 40 percent less than a college graduate that is in a job that requires a college degree.

PAUL SOLMAN: After A.L. got her B.A. in creative writing two years ago, she worked in New Orleans as a part-time copywriter, then moved to New York to find a real job.

A.L., college graduate: I just sort of assumed that I would become an assistant editor somewhere for some publication, and just work my way up. It’s definitely no walk in the park.

PAUL SOLMAN: Though, actually, given the dog-eat-dog publishing world, walks in the park have become her job.

A.L.: I am walking dogs right now to sort of help feed myself while I’m here.

PAUL SOLMAN: Through an agency, she gets 10 bucks an hour. She bunks for free with friends as the job search goes on.

The theme of one surprising interview: stocks and bondage.

A.L.: I looked into the world of a dominatrix.

(LAUGHTER)

It was kind of like out of a movie, you know? The guy, he was a little rough around the edges. You know, he knew that I had absolutely no experience with this whatsoever, but he did say that, to a prostitute, this is pennies, but, to — for a waitress, this is a fortune.

PAUL SOLMAN: We will spare you more graphic footage about this particular instance of malemployment, and go back to the dogs, to set up A.L.’s reaction when told the typical clients would come from Wall Street.

A.L.: I think that would be some kind of karma. That would be like a stress release on my part. It’s kind of their fault that I’m in this position, so slapping them around might feel pretty good.

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL SOLMAN: A.L. was just the second in her family to get a college degree, still a plus for those over 25. Their jobless rate is half that of non-graduates.

But, last month, the jobless rate for older grads topped 5 percent for the first time in 40 years. And for grads under 25, it’s 9.5 percent.

Rutgers professor Carl Van Horn says A.L. is typical of her generation.

CARL VAN HORN, Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University: The advice that they have gotten since they were toddlers was, get a college degree, and you will have a successful economic future. And I want to emphasize that still is a better bet than not, but now it’s more difficult to translate that in this particular economy.

And, of course, the cost of education has gone up so dramatically that many people are facing really significant debts when they are finished.

PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, the debts have been getting harder to pay. Between 2000 and 2009, inflation-adjusted earnings for grads with just a bachelor’s degree fell by 15 percent, while public college tuitions rose 63 percent; private school 30 percent.

Small wonder most of last year’s B.A.s were in debt, owing, on average, $24,000 upon graduation.

Evan Melillo was a history major who minored in political science and graduated last year $40,000 in debt. He hoped to land a local government job after an internship at the town manager’s office in nearby Sandwich, Massachusetts.

EVAN MELILLO, college graduate: I really had to give up on that after a couple of months, because the positions just weren’t there, and who I’m competing with are far more experienced people than me.

PAUL SOLMAN: Melillo finally found temp work moving furniture while becoming certified to teach.

EVAN MELILLO: I went on Craigslist and I looked up every tutoring, assistant teacher. I think I applied to a driving school. And, so far, I got two e-mails back.

PAUL SOLMAN: The only job he did land was through a connection at a local charter school. Kara (ph), his 10-year-old sister, is a student there.

EVAN MELILLO: Unbeknownst to me, my little sister was going into the copying room and asking people if her brother had gotten a job.

PAUL SOLMAN: Unable to support himself on the $72 he makes subbing at his sister’s school once a week, Melillo moved back into his old room.

Evan’s 22-year-old brother lives with their parents, too. In fact, he’s never left, says their mom.

LAUREN MELILLO, mother of Evan Melillo: Evan’s brother was — has not been to college and has had just about as much success finding work, making the same amount of money as Evan has.

PAUL SOLMAN: So, he sees no reason to go to college. So far, all of the grads you’ve seen went to state schools: David Cook to Georgia State; A.L. to Louisiana State; Evan Melillo to the University of Massachusetts.

But, these days, even an Ivy League degree is no guarantee.

G.C., college graduate: I have applied for 400 jobs, at least, probably closer to 500.

PAUL SOLMAN: G.C. graduated from Brown in 2009, $80,000 in the hole. A comp lit major, she hoped to work at a nonprofit for at-risk youth. But 18 months have yet to produce a full-time job.

G.C.: Everybody says, you know, don’t take it personally. And it’s hard to keep that in mind, because it does feel like a personal rejection.

PAUL SOLMAN: G.C.’s working part-time on E-470 in Denver, $10.75 an hour to log license plate numbers from photos of cars that use the toll road. Plenty of her Brown classmates are malemployed as well.

G.C.: Jobs that you don’t need a college education for, by any stretch of the imagination.

PAUL SOLMAN: G.C. thought the highway job would be stopgap. It’s lasted a year, with food stamps needed at times to supplement her part-time income.

David Cook and his wife, also a college grad, and part-time waitress, are still on food stamps, were on welfare for a while, too.

DAVID COOK: It’s been really emotionally tough for — for both of us. And, psychologically, it’s hard to, you know, be the father and the husband, the man of the family, all this, but not providing for him.

PAUL SOLMAN: And now the Cooks are awaiting the arrival of a second baby.

DAVID COOK: I found this job washing trash cans the day before she found out she was pregnant. So…

(LAUGHTER)

… at least I was finally able to call family members that I was too embarrassed to talk to before, and tell them the good news, and also that I had found a job.

But it’s hard to call back home when you feel like you’re failing, you know? It’s hard to, like, call your grandparents and tell them that you’re still not working, you know, and that — that you’re on welfare and stuff like that, you know? It’s three degrees in the house, you know? It’s — so, it’s — so, I’m really grateful to be washing trash cans.

PAUL SOLMAN: Grateful to have any job, even if he didn’t need a degree in anthropology to get it.