WASHINGTON, DC — The promise underpinning recent decades of America’s “college-for-all” approach to education is that we need a highly educated workforce to meet the demands of the globalized economy. But while employers lament “skills gaps” and colleges demand more resources, the reality is that America is overproducing college graduates for an economy that does not have enough degree-requiring jobs to employ them. A new American Compass report by Oren Cass finds that from 2000 to 2019, the U.S. added more than 20 million college graduates to the workforce, but only 10 million new BA-requiring jobs, leaving millions of Americans underemployed.
Globalization’s premise was that as working-class jobs moved overseas, well-paying careers requiring higher education would take their place, leaving American workers and the economy better off. When this failed to materialize, many policymakers, employers, and analysts assumed that the problem was with insufficient education and training and pushed ever more students into the college pipeline. The reality, however, is that this vision of the workforce of the future is misguided. Cass’s new analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data finds:
- From 2000 to 2019, bachelor’s degree holders accounted for 97% of net workforce growth, but 41% of net job growth required a high school degree or less.
- Only those workers who manage to secure jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree (BA jobs) have experienced significant wage gains. As of 2019, BA jobs still accounted for just 27% of the labor market, but they managed to capture 75% of the total 2000–19 increase in wages paid economy-wide.
- Only BA jobs saw an upward shift in distribution across wage levels. Overall, average wages rose four times faster in BA jobs than other jobs, even as those other jobs were increasingly filled by BA holders.
- The labor market saw a net shift of 4 million workers from high-school-or-less to some-college, but it added only 1 million jobs requiring some college.