A Lasting Career Comes Later for Millennials
Published: Friday, October 18, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013 01:10
Over the last 30 years, the job market has gone through a fundamental shift, with young adults taking longer to settle into lasting careers and older adults taking longer to retire — a phenomenon the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce examined in a recent report.
The Sept. 30 report entitled “Failure to Launch: Structural Shift and the New Lost Generation,” showed that while previous models of employment have assumed entry into the job market at age 18 and exit at age 65, this range has been continually shifting toward older workers, particularly those who work in white-collar occupations and have a college degree.
In 1980, the average age to begin earning the nation-wide median wage was 26, compared to 30 in 2012. In addition, older adults are staying in the labor market longer, earning higher wages and accumulating more wealth than they did 30 years ago.
According to CEW Director Anthony Carnevale, one of the report’s co-authors, the fact that older workers are staying in the job market longer is not the cause of job shortages for recent graduates.
“If you’re in a job and you’re 65, the person you’re crowding out of that job is probably 55, not 25,” Carnevale said.
Rather, the increasingly longer time period required by young adults to settle into careers has been caused by a fundamental change in the structure of the labor market.
“The on-ramp [into the labor market] has become longer,” Carnevale said. “It’s more difficult. It requires increased educational attainment in order to get access to learning on the job and training on the job.”
Employers are demanding increased education and skill levels from employees than what they did 30 years ago because of the nation’s shift from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. According to the report, as technological innovations have replaced tasks that required human labor prior to 1980, employees have had to increasingly demonstrate expanded skill sets in order to compete for work.
While this change has increased the value of a college degree, it has also exacerbated the differences among college majors. Workers with lower-level degrees in higher-paying fields like science, technology, engineering and mathematics often earn more than people with higher-level degrees in less valuable fields.
According to Cawley Career Education Center Executive Director Michael Schaub, however, Georgetown alumni have shown a strong ability to adapt, regardless of their courses of study or their degrees. Schaub attributed this to Georgetown’s strong liberal arts education.
“Georgetown students can enter into almost any field with almost any major,” Schaub wrote in an email. “One advantage of a strong liberal arts education is the ability to be adaptable across job functions and industries during challenging economic times.”
In addition, the report also showed that women and minorities were more likely to choose college majors that traditionally lead to lower-paying jobs, while those who did choose majors targeted toward high-paying careers often still served in low-paying jobs.
As a result, there is a persistent wage gap between these groups and white men, but men have been most heavily impacted by the changes in the job market. Prior to 2000, 70 percent of workers tended to have, at most, high school degrees, and most of these workers were middle-class men who took blue-collar jobs that paid very well but did not require college degrees.
From 2000 to 2012, however, the employment rate for men between the ages of 26 and 30 dropped from 80 percent to 65 percent, while the rate for women in the same age range only dropped 6 percentage points from 56 percent to 50 percent.
In response to such changes in the job market, the report advocates for better preparation for young adults’ transition into the workforce, such as learning to balance work and education at an early stage in order to accelerate a move into a full-time career.