The college Class of 2015 has lots of reasons to count its blessings. For starters, it is not the college class of 2008. It is also not the college class of 2009, ‘10, ‘11, ‘12, ‘13, or ‘14. Thanks to the gradually healing economy, this year’s graduates are about to land in the best job climate for young bachelor’s degree holders since the recession, according to a new analysis by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. And as a result, somewhat fewer of them should end up resorting to work as baristas, waiters, temps, or whatnot just to pay the bills. By recent standards, it’s a decent time to be an educated 22-year-old.
But it’s still not a great one.
Last week, the Fed’s researchers reported that both the unemployment rate among recent college graduates and the fraction stuck in occupations that don’t require their degree fell in 2014. This was, obviously, very good news. More educated young adults are getting hired, and, rather than making espresso or photocopies for a living, more of them are finding jobs that pay for their talent (or at least the diploma on their wall). It’s also clear from other indicators, such as job postings, that demand for skilled workers has picked up after a period of stagnating. But we’re still a long way from undoing all the damage left behind by the economic downturn. More than 44 percent of young grads still have more education than necessary to do their jobs. By the end of 2007, it was closer to 41 percent. In 2000, that figure bottomed out at 38 percent.
Those numbers should tell you something important: A large chunk of college graduates has always been overeducated for its field. The difference is that those individuals typically worked in better-paid occupations than they do today. As the New York Fed has shown, the last few years have seen not only a rising number of underemployed bachelor’s holders, but a rising number stuck in outright low-wage work. And recent research has shown that, even once they do manage to find college-level employment, those workers could still earn less than their peers for several years.
So, all is not awful for this year’s grads, but all is still not well. Which, not coincidentally, is how you could sum up the economy as a whole.