May 24, 2024

Economix: Are College Grads Too Lazy to Work?

I’ve received a lot of passionate (and angry) e-mails in response to my article today on the employment fate of recent college graduates. While the messages from young people almost uniformly expressed frustration at the job market they’d been thrust into, some of the e-mails from older readers argued that today’s college graduates were having trouble finding jobs because they hadn’t worked hard enough. For example, a reader named Norman Berger asks why graduates wonder why they prove worthless to a potential employer when they follow this approach:

Take ’soft’ subjects, be lulled into complacency by grade inflation, have teachers who are tenured and don’t care how rigorously you think, start partying on Wednesdays, take 3-4 courses per semester/quarter and spend 5-6 years to graduate, study six hours per week (at best), believe in all of the liberal causes which produce soft qualative rather than quantative thinking, learn to hate the capitalistic system, don’t care when you get out of school that you’ll still be living at home, etc …

As we’ve written before, today’s college students do indeed spend less time studying, and get higher grades, than their counterparts from a generation ago did. And most young graduates are leaning heavily on their family for financial support. More than one in five are living with their parents or other relatives, and many are getting help from family members for other expenses, as shown in the chart below.

DESCRIPTION “Unfulfilled Expectations: Recent College Graduates Struggle in a Troubled Economy,” Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University. Answer to prompt: “Please check off any of the following things that your parents or other family members help you with financially.”

But today’s college students also have spent a lot of time working, well before graduation.

Sixty percent of the graduates of the college classes of 2006 through 2010 said they held a part-time job while enrolled in school, not including jobs held during the summer or between semesters. Another 23 percent said they were working full time or both full and part time during school, according to a new study released by Rutgers.

For 44 percent of students, work or personal savings helped finance their schooling.

“Based on the finding that young people overwhelmingly were working in college, I don’t think this is a generation of slackers,” said Carl Van Horn, a labor economist at Rutgers and co-author of the study. “This image of the kid who goes off and skis in Colorado, I don’t think that’s the correct image. Today’s young people are very focused on trying to work hard and to get ahead.”

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