Where the Jobs Aren’t

The news isn’t good for recent college graduates.

The sheer number of kids in their 20s moving back in with mom and dad isn’t just anecdotal; going back to the class of 2006, half of them—half!—don’t have jobs.

Here’s Quentin Fottrell in SmartMoney.com:

Only a half of those who graduated since 2006 are now employed full time, according to a recent Rutgers University survey.  More college graduates are settling for jobs that in years past would have gone to those without degrees, while people in their 30s are now occupying jobs once taken by recent graduates….

If all the young people who’ve already given up looking for jobs are included—the 1.7 million people aged 18-29 who’ve been out of work for more than a year—the latest 8.2% unemployment figure would be closer to 16.8% for that age group…That’s the highest unemployment rate for that age group since World War II…

Not to mention the huge debt load many of them must repay.

Copyright: olly/Shutterstock.

And it’s not only recent college grads. A stunning article in The Washington Post over the weekend showed that even older graduates who followed the practical path and went into the hard sciences are struggling years after they got their PhDs.

“There are too many laboratory scientists for too few jobs,” wrote Brian Vastag, who noted that President Obama “has made science education a priority”:

Although jobs in some high-tech areas, especially computer and petroleum engineering, seem to be booming, the market is much tighter for lab-bound scientists—those seeking new discoveries in biology, chemistry and medicine.

Part of this is sheer supply and demand: “The supply of scientists has grown far faster than the number of academic positions,” Verstag wrote, as a government-backed research boom in the early 2000s petered out while “the number of new PhDs in the medical and life sciences boomed, nearly doubling from 2003 to 2007…”

I’m sure the government-is-causing-all-the-problems crowd is nodding their heads now. But it’s not just the government’s fault; a massive restructuring of the drug industry also is to blame:

The pharmaceutical industry once was a haven for biologists and chemists…But a decade of slash-and-burn mergers; stagnating profit; exporting of jobs to India, China and Europe; and declining investment in research and development have dramatically shrunk the U.S. drug industry, with research positions taking heavy hits….Since 2000, U.S. drug firms have slashed 300,000 jobs…

Copyright: Cartoonresource/Shutterstock.

These people didn’t major in art history, philosophy, or the silly media courses that have proliferated at second-rate universities; they went into science, biology and chemistry, and worked hard to get the advanced degrees they thought would open the door to good, rewarding careers.

Some of this is cyclical, of course. The Arab oil embargo and Iranian hostage crisis of the 1970s drove up oil prices and spurred a boom in students studying petroleum engineering. When oil prices plunged in the 1980s, they were out of luck.

And there may be some breakthrough in biotechnology or medicine that changes everything. But does anyone expect big drug companies to hire hundreds of thousands of researchers again in the United States? No, they’re likely to need fewer extra people and pay them less in labs overseas.

Free market capitalism has been a great boon to mankind. Alternatives like socialism and communism have been catastrophes.

But no human institution is perfect, and in the Great Recession millions of people—not just the unskilled or laid-off construction and factory workers—have experienced capitalism’s downside. The system just isn’t working the way it used to for too many, and neither presidential candidate has proposed workable ways to fix it.

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