The Great Recession and the slow recovery that followed made life depressingly difficult for Millennials.
The structural change to the labor market caused by technological advancements increased entry level job requirements and made it more challenging for young people to get their careers off the ground compared to previous generations. Headlines like “Is College Worth the Cost?” still plague news outlets and the unofficial consensus is that higher education is becoming an increasingly risky investment.
Notable policymakers have ridiculed liberal arts studies as having little value in the job market, forcing some colleges and universities, particularly liberal arts schools, to defend or even alter their mission to heed the call for more graduates in science, technology, engineering and math.
Yet the research is clear: college graduates unquestionably have an advantage over those with less education. Higher education is as important as ever.
Of the 11.6 million jobs created in the post-recession economy, 11.5 million went to people with a college education. Of those jobs, 8.4 million went to workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher. People with a high school diploma or less education landed 80,000 jobs in the recovery.
Anthony Carnevale is an economist and the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. At the intersection of education and employment policy, Canevale is perhaps the leading expert.
His accomplishments are impressive to say the least; he has been Chair of the Human Resources Sub-Committee of the White House Commission on Productivity, Vice President for Public Leadership at the Educational Testing Service and Director of Human Resource and Employment He served on the White House Commission on Technology and Adult Education and was appointed to the chair the National Commission on Employment Policy. Carnevale also received the Truman award from the American Association of Community Colleges and the Morris T. Keeton Adult and Experiential Learning Award by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
This all means to say: when it comes to the economy, Carnevale knows what’s up. And luckily for me, he took some time from his busy schedule to dispel media speculation and wave away the click-bait headlines saying your education isn’t worth much at all.
How do you see the impact of robotics, artificial intelligence and technology on the labor market?
Technology will continue to automate repetitive tasks in every job, and in some cases, will automate entire jobs. At the same time, technology will increase the value of higher level skills that allow workers to perform the non-repetitive tasks that are growing in every occupation. That means that in addition to particular knowledge in a particular field, workers will need to be more flexible. Flexibility requires more robust skills, like problem solving and innovation. Moreover, as technology automates repetitive tasks, it increases the need for human interaction on the job in order to fully exploit the technology, and that will require a set of softer skills, like interpersonal skills, communication skills and teamwork skills.
What effect do you think that tuition free or debt-free higher education would have on the labor market?
The most positive effect will be that the education system would produce more human capital which affects the long-term growth potential of the economy and increases the short-term earnings power of those who get the additional education. Among institutions, free public college, as proposed by Secretary Clinton, would probably increase enrollments at public colleges and reduce enrollments at middle-tier private colleges.
Weigh-in on supply-side economics vs a New Deal-style stimulus; what really creates jobs?
Supply-side economics tends to increase earnings for more wealthy individuals and private business, but also reduces the earnings power of individual workers. A New Deal-style stimulus, if targeted on job creation, increases employment and earnings for non-managerial workers.
Healthcare is getting better and people are living longer. What does this trend mean for the labor market?
Older Americans are both a blessing and a curse for younger working Americans. They are a curse because younger Americans are going to have to pay for their retirement costs, social security and medicare. They are a blessing because three out of five new job openings over the next decade –about 30 million jobs–will come from retirement of the baby boomers.
What would happen to the labor market if the incarceration rate went down and a new population was added to the labor market?
The issue with incarcerated workers is not that they would flood the labor market. The issue is that they would flood the unskilled labor market and result and more and more unemployment for unskilled workers. Given current law that forces felons to notify their employers, it becomes very difficult for people with criminal records to get jobs at all.
What would you say to a recent graduate who worked hard, paid a lot for college, and still has not been able to find full-time work with good benefits? Any advice?
There are two alternatives. The first is to get further education or training. That can be done by going on to graduate school or by getting much more short-term training by pursuing a certificate at a community college. Or by taking courses that would help them pass the test for an industry-based certification, such as a Microsoft certification. In both cases, they need to be sure that other students who had gone on to a particular graduate program or pursued a certificate or certification increase their employment and earning prospects and were able to work in their field of study.
What makes you optimistic about future labor markets? What keeps you up at night?
I’m optimistic about future labor markets because the economy is now asking for a much broader and deeper set of skills. That means that the development of human capital has become crucial to making money. And that’s an optimistic outcome in a democracy. The pessimism is that both the education system and the economy is highly stratified by race and class. As we have more and more inequality, it’s more and more race- and class-based. That’s the problem in a democracy.