Is Underemployment Still a Problem?


You know your cousin who graduated with a degree in philosophy but ended up working at Starbucks for two years? He joined the ranks of the underemployed, a common problem for recent graduates, especially in a down economy.

This phenomenon is nothing new, but with the long lasting effects of the 2008 recession, students are stilling wondering if underemployment will affect them. 

Graduates in the early 2010s found a cold job market. Many companies had gone through drastic restructuring leaving fewer open positions to new graduates. The good news is that in the last few years, underemployment has become less of an issue. 

Things Are Looking Up For College Grads

According to a study by the New York Federal Reserve, underemployment for recent graduates was at about 47% in 2010. As of 2015, underemployment for recent graduates fell to only 43%. Still not great, but things are improving. 

Better News for Specialists

One interesting point made in the study was that though underemployment truly did go up (drastically) during the recession, many recent graduates were able to get into a good paying position. This was found to be especially true of those graduating with degrees in specialized areas such as nursing, information technology and engineering. Generalists such as those in communications and liberal arts had the highest percentages of underemployment. 

What Can You Do?

So what can you do to increase your chances of finding a good opportunity after graduation? One word: experience.

You may say that’s a bit of a catch-22 – how can you get experience doing the work you can’t get a position for? Two things come to mind – internships and temp agencies. 

During the last few years of college, try to get into an internship related to your major or the type of work you are looking to do. According to a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Cross, and reported on by the Wall Street Journal, recent graduates with internship experience are about 14% more likely to be called for an interview over someone who doesn’t have that experience. 

If an internship is out of the question, you can try looking for a temp agency – especially if your major is business focused. Temp work related to your field can give you valuable hands on experience that employers view very favorably. The more real world experience you can gain from internships, temp work or even volunteering will make you a more valuable candidate for any company. 

Parting Thoughts

Here’s the deal. Finding a job in the field you want probably won’t be easy. It probably won’t be quick, and it probably won’t pay what you want it to pay. Give it some time, try to get your foot in anywhere you can and start doing good work.

By being proactive and thinking about the business you will be successful and be able to grow your career. Get out there and get an internship. If internships are out of the question find temp work or volunteer doing something related to your ideal job. Eventually you’ll find an opportunity to get into the place you want earning the money you want. 

Underemployment doesn’t have to be a life-long “condition”.