While the retail industry has been intensely competing for the back-to-college shopping dollars of the record-breaking 21 million students enrolled in degree programs this year, the U.S. presidential candidates have been intensely competing for the votes of that same target audience, making the cost of college a key platform issue in the final campaign months. When it comes to college costs and college debt, there are 21 million young people and their parents who will agree that this is an issue that is much more than campaign rhetoric.
An analysis released recently by Bloomberg news revealed that the average cost of a college education has risen 1,120% since 1978, which is almost twice as much as the increase in medical expenses for that same time period. Considering how painfully aware Americans are of the rising cost of health care, this is a shocking comparison that anyone can relate to.
Mitt Romney's position is that the Obama administration is to blame for the millions of college grads who have loads of debt and "a lack of good jobs when they graduate." But a recent study by Lumina Foundation and Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce doesn't back up Romney's accusation about a lack of jobs for college graduates. Rather, the recently released study reveals that for all four-year grads, the unemployment rate is 4.5% and for recent college grads, the unemployment rate is 6.8%. Both of those unemployment rates are comparatively good. The study also estimates that college graduates can still expect to earn $1.3 million more in their lifetime than workers without a degree.
But that still leave the question about whether the jobs that are currently being worked by college graduates are "good" jobs. According to a recent survey of 50,000 Gen Y workers (age 19-29) by research firm PayScale, Inc., 63% of the respondents had at least a four-year college degree, but the four most common jobs they were currently working were in the retail industry. Those most common retail Gen Y job positions are:
1) Merchandise Displayer
2) Clothing Sales Rep
3) Cellular Telephone Sales Rep
4) Assistant Merchandise Manager
Of course the retail industry is not exactly known as the industry of highest wages. In fact, half of the worst-paying jobs for Gen Yers right now are in the retail industry, where they are working for low hourly pay as cashiers, baristas, sales associates, produce clerks, and restaurant greeters. And let's not forget the ongoing debate about whether a college degree is important or not for those who work in the retail industry.
So, the PayScale data seems to support Romney's position that there are no "good" jobs for debt-laden college graduates, and that this college grad job shortfall is the fault of the Obama administration. Or maybe not.
Taking a look at the list of most common degrees obtained by this Gen Y group, one has to wonder what exactly these students were thinking their career path would be when they picked these majors (listed in order of popularity):
- Entrepreneurial Studies
- Sport Management
- Digital Media
- Communication Studies
- Biomedical Engineering
- Political Science
- Athletic Training
- Corporate Finance
- Supply Chain Management
- Actuarial Mathematics
- Web & Digital Media Development
- Public Relations
- Textile & Apparel Studies
- Fashion Design
- Film, Video & Media Studies
- Construction Management
- International Relations
Those with degrees in entrepreneurial studies, sports management, athletic training, digital media, and web development could probably make their own jobs easier than they could find one. Those who accrued five-figure debt for degrees in sports management, political science, film, and construction management might have done well to take a math course before they chose their major. Those with degrees in communications, finance, supply chain management, public relations, apparel studies, and fashion design should be happy to start working in retail, whether that is their ultimate dream career path or not.
In fact, there aren't too many successful professionals in any field or industry who didn't work a retail or restaurant job at some point in their life. And those who managed to keep their college-degreed arrogance in check will tell you that they found value working in a retail job, gained skills, and in retrospect, had some good post-grad fun.
So the facts really don't support Romney's position so far. There are jobs for grads. Those jobs are as "good" as the commitment level of the college grad working in them. And the mismatch between the highest-paying jobs and the field of study chosen by college students is hardly the fault of any government administration.
But the fact remains that the cost of a college education is ridiculous. And I can't understand why nobody's pushing colleges to justify their 1,120% increases rather than trying to create governmental program bandaids for an education system that's got chronic systemic disorders.
One last comment about working in the retail industry, which is often viewed as the keeper of the least desirable jobs of last resort. In response to the PayScale survey data above, Dan Schawbel, a Gen Y expert and author of the book "Me 2.0." had this to say... "While [Gen Yers] are the future corporate leaders and change-makers, they are suffering in this economy by having to work in retail jobs over professional ones."
News flash to Mr. Schawbel, and all those who agree with him... The retail industry is a highly competitive industry that generates about 2/3 of the GDP in the U.S. and employs nearly 15 million people. Retail jobs are real jobs and working in the retail industry is an actual career choice for millions of people, which they study for, train for, and achieve expertise in. A retail job is as "professional" as the person working in it, which is also true for politicians, writers, and self-appointed experts.
So as long as the financial health of the U.S. is dependent on consumption, does anybody have legitimate reason to disparage the job opportunities that are available in the chief industry that is driving the U.S. economy?
More About Retail Industry Jobs:
- The Retail Employers That College Grads Most Want to Work For
- Where to Find Today's Retail Job Openings
- Job Search Tips In Times of High Unemployment