College Majors and Unemployment: Georgetown

“I’m a man of leisure. That’s because I have an English degree and can’t get a job.

Jarod Kintz, At even one penny, this book would be overpriced. In fact, free is too expensive, because you’d still waste time by reading it.

Think about the traditional “unemployment majors”. You know, those majors that become the object of job-search jokes, for whom you find it difficult to call potential career paths to mind. The ones that, in conversation, attract worried looks from relatives. Some of the ones you just muttered at your computer screen might include English majors (especially because I prompted you with Jarod Kintz), Philosophy majors, and Psychology majors. To a large extent, you’re right! These majors do have higher than average unemployment rates and lower than average pay scales. However, you should avoid making the mistake of thinking these are currently the majors fraught with the greatest peril. The new Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment, and Earnings Report for 2013 demonstrates that while college graduates had a better overall unemployment rate than non-college graduates between 2010 and 2011 (4.6–4.7 % for college graduates 25 years of age or older compared to 9-10 % for non-college graduates), unemployment varied considerably between majors, in some cases exceeding the overall unemployment rate of non-college graduates.

Architecture majors in particular seem to be experiencing vocational distress. While the average unemployment rate for recent college graduates (ages 22 – 26 with bachelor’s degrees) from all majors the study examined was approximately 8%, architecture majors suffered from a 12.8% unemployment rate (see figure: Unemployment Rates 2010-2011). Experience in the field (college graduates between the ages of 30 and 54) brought the unemployment rates of all groups of majors in the survey down, but again Architecture was left behind, matching the national rate at 9.3%. It is not until we reach Architectural majors with graduate degrees that they pull up to a 6.9% unemployment rate, still behind the average for this group in the study: ~3%.

This sounds like quite a bit of bad news, but there are auspicious tidings from other majors. Here are the major findings of the study, summarized in their own words:

1. Even as the housing bubble seems to be dissipating, unemployment rates for recent architecture graduates have remained high (12.8%). Graduate degrees and work experience did not shield these graduates from a sector-specific shock; graduates with experience in the field have the same jobless rates as the economy overall (9.3%).

2. Unemployment is generally higher for non-technical majors, such as the arts (9.8%) or law and public policy (9.2%).

3. People who make technology are still better off than people who use technology. Unemployment rates for recent graduates in information systems, concentrated in clerical functions, is high (14.7%) compared with mathematics (5.9%) and computer science (8.7%).

4. Unemployment rates are relatively low for recent graduates in education (5.0%), engineering (7.0%), health and the sciences (4.8%) because they are tied to stable or growing industry sectors and occupations.

5. Graduates in psychology and social work also have relatively low rates (8.8%) because almost half of them work in healthcare or education sectors.

While we may be correct to some degree in our snap judgements about major-specific job opportunities, there are surprising trends in our economy worth a little more attention. You may be secure in your focus within STEM (I mean, we are in the midst of the Digital Revolution and Age of Biology, are we not?), but it is worth it to go to the report and do a little bit of “choose-your-own-adventure” investigating. What is the unemployment rate for graduates with your degree? How can you improve your chances of securing a job and increase your potential income? In general, it appears more education means improved chances, but the evolving market is beginning to demand a shift in our mentalities. So here’s your wake-up call: English majors have a lower unemployment rate than Architects. What rate are you combating?

One comment

  1. Hi there, just wanted to mention, I loved this
    blog post. It was funny. Keep on posting!

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