Nearly half of working Americans with college degrees are in jobs for which they're overqualified, a new study out Monday suggests.
And the study, released by the non-profit Center for College Affordability and Productivity, argues that the trend is likely to continue for newly minted college graduates over the next decade.
"It is almost the new normal," says lead author Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist and founder of the center, based in Washington.
The number of Americans whose highest academic degree was a bachelor's grew 25% to 41 million between 2002 and 2012, statistics released last week from the U.S. Census Bureau show.
The number with associate's degrees increased 31%, while the number of Americans for whom the highest level of education attainment was a master's or doctorate degree grew fastest of all -- 45% and 43%, respectively.
Earnings in 2011 averaged $59,415 for people with any earnings ages 25 and older whose highest degree was a bachelor's degree, and $32,493 for people with a high school diploma but no college, the Census data show.
Vedder, whose study is based on 2010 Labor Department data, says the problem is the stock of college graduates in the workforce (41.7 million) in 2010 was larger than the number of jobs requiring a college degree (28.6 million).
That, he says, helps explain why 15% of taxi drivers in 2010 had bachelor's degrees vs. 1% in 1970. Among retail sales clerks, 25% had a bachelor's degree in 2010. Less than 5% did in 1970.
"There are going to be an awful lot of disappointed people because a lot of them are going to end up as janitors," Vedder says. In 2010, 5% of janitors, 115,520 workers, had bachelor's degrees, his data show.
Matt Moberg, who provides training for the Cleaning Management Institute in Latham, N.Y., says the percentage of degree-holding janitors was probably smaller before the recession, but adds that those with four-year degrees likely are business owners or workers in online degree programs.
Vedder's findings are at odds with a report released last week by a pro-business public policy organization that seeks to boost financial aid for low-income students.
"Right now you can look around the world and you can see a lot of high-tech, high-value high-productivity jobs that we are not doing in this country, in part because our country does not have the requisite skills," says Joe Minarik, of the Washington-based Committee for Economic Development. Foregoing college "is not what we should aspire to."
Mary Beth Marklein/USA TODAY