” A word of caution for kids heading off to college this year: Your degree may be worth less and cost more than you think. Your job prospects will likely be grim, whether or not you get that sheepskin. Oh, and you’re on the hook for trillions in federal debt racked up by your parents and grandparents.
Washington has willfully ignored the looming crisis of entitlement spending, knowingly consigning young Americans to a future of crushing debt, persistent underemployment, and burdensome regulation. Politicians on both sides of the aisle share the blame.
This summer, Congress made a big bipartisan show of cutting student loan rates to 3.4 percent from an already artificially low 6.8 percent. But even that seemingly helpful gesture will wind up hurting the Americans it claims to help. Federal student aid, whether in the form of grants or loans, is the main factor behind the runaway cost of higher education. Subsidies raise prices, leading to higher subsidies, which raise prices even more. This higher education bubble, like the housing bubble before it, will eventually pop. Meanwhile, large numbers of students will graduate with more debt than they would have in an unsubsidized market.
And when those new, debt-laden graduates head out into the labor market with their overpriced diplomas, they may not be able to find a job. According to data provided to me by my Mercatus Center colleague, former Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) commissioner Keith Hall, fewer than half of Americans today between the ages of 18 and 25 are employed. For those in that cohort actively on the job market, the unemployment rate is 16 percent, versus 6 percent for job-seekers aged 25 and above.
This jobs crisis will have long-term consequences for young Americans. A forthcoming paper in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics on Canadian college graduates by the economists Philip Oreopoulos, Till Von Wachter, and Andrew Heisz shows that in economies like ours, during normal times, the average person sees 70 percent of career wage growth in the first 10 years on the job. That is terrible news for people who are unemployed or underemployed at the start of their careers. The study also shows that those unlucky enough to graduate during a recession will suffer a 9 percent pay hit from the start of their careers-and it will likely take them a decade to climb out of that hole.
Weak economies always hit younger people hard, but this weak recovery is taking a particularly heavy toll, despite the massive government intervention in the form of stimulus and job programs. In fact, much of the uncertainty that gets in the way of employers hiring new full-time workers can be traced to government policies.“
Illustration by RJ Matson