Job Market Snapshot

What does the future hold for recent college graduates?
Job Market Snapshot

WHAT DOES THE job market in the U.S. look like for recent college graduates with four-year degrees? A May report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a think tank based in Washington, D.C., tracks the economic prospects of these individuals as they start their careers. It was authored by senior economist Elise Gould and research assistants Zane Mokhiber and Julia Wolfe.

According to the report, fewer than one-fifth of adults between the ages of 21 and 24 are college graduates. Of this group:

  • 57.4 percent are women.
  • Two-thirds are white.
  • 10 percent are underemployed.

Between 1989 and 2019, wage growth for young college graduates has been a lackluster 13.9 percent across all groups, but there have been variances by demographic. For instance, there is now a 12.9 percent gap between men’s and women’s wages, while young black college graduates are paid, on average, 12. 2 percent less than their white counterparts.

The report also tracks the percentages of recent graduates who are employed only, employed and enrolled in additional schooling, enrolled only, or idled (neither working nor in school). Most of the individuals in this group are enrolled only, although the number of those who are idled has risen slightly between 1989 and 2019.

While the unemployment rate for white graduates has essentially recovered to pre-recession levels, that’s not true for black, Hispanic, and Asian American/Pacific Islander individuals; in fact, the gaps between white graduates and other groups remain larger than they were in 2000.

According to the authors of the report, “While by many measures the labor market for young graduates is now almost—or perhaps even fully—back to where it was before the recession, the economy of 2007 represents a low bar for economic opportunity. We should instead be striving for the high-pressure economy of the late 1990s and 2000, in which an extended period of labor market strength translated into better opportunities for workers across the board. The economy needs to continue on track toward full employment for economic growth to reach all corners of the labor market.”

Download the full report.