College Affordability and Bias Bar Young People From Good Jobs

A recent report found that to secure a job making $35,000 a year or more, young people need more education and experience than previous generations.
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  • Just 43% of young workers born in the early 1980s had "good jobs" at age 25.
  • Overall, today's young workers are significantly less likely to have good jobs before the age of 30.
  • Less than 50% of young women and students of color had good jobs between the ages of 25 and 35 years old.

The path to earning a good job has never been more challenging than it is today. Young people in their 20s seeking work are increasingly expected to be more educated with more work experience than young people of past generations.

But as the cost of a college education continues to rise, racial and gender inequalities in and out of the workplace persist, and young people are taking longer to secure employment.

A recent report from the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce (CEW) found that most young adults do not attain a "good job" until their early 30s.

The report defines a good job as one that pays at least $35,000 a year and $57,000 at the median for young workers.

The only subset of young adults who continually obtain good jobs before the age of 30 are those with a bachelor's degree or higher. They also do so at higher rates than previous generations.

But overall, today's young workers need more time to acquire the proper education and work experience for a good job than young workers of the past. By age 30, however, far more young workers of today have good jobs than the share of young workers who did in past generations.

Educational Attainment Delays Young People From Good Jobs and Wealth

During the last few decades, there has been a major increase in jobs requiring potential employees to have a bachelor's degree or higher. As a result, having at least a bachelor's degree can increase your chances of securing a good job by more than 20 percentage points.

Though this may sound like an easy solution to attaining better employment early in life, earning a bachelor's degree still takes an average of four years to complete. And due to the cost of college, students often have to juggle working full or part time while in school and take longer than four years to finish their degree program.

Since the early 1960s, average tuition and fees have increased by 143%.

Because of these continually rising costs, students of today incur higher educational debt than students of previous generations.

According to the report, young adults are accumulating less wealth than in the past as a direct result of this debt. Especially among the many students who are left with debt, but no degree or credential.

Researchers found that this delay in wealth accumulation also delays young adults from living independently, owning a home, and deciding to get married and have children.

In the last few years, employers have increasingly abandoned degree requirements in favor of specific skill sets. But it's too soon to say how this will impact students' trajectory toward attaining good jobs earlier in life.

Inequality in Education Leads to Further Inequality in the Workforce. But Bias Plays a Big Role, Too

Inequities in education have often led minority students to earn less when entering the workforce. So it's no surprise that young women and students of color are lagging behind their counterparts when it comes to having a good job.

Among young adults, Asian/Asian American men and women, white men and women, and multiracial women, are all more likely than the overall young population to have a bachelor's degree or higher. As seen above, they are also more likely to have a good job.

Despite this, the racial and gender gaps in young people with good jobs cannot fully be explained by levels of educational attainment.

Though discrimination is often difficult to quantify, there are persistent wage gaps across various races and genders among workers with similar occupation, education, and full-time status, researchers found.

White men with a bachelor's degree working in business and financial operations earn thousands of dollars more than both men and women of other races and ethnicities who have the same level of education and worker status.

And at every level of educational attainment, young women are less likely to have a good job than young men.

The biases that are embedded in the system often make it difficult for sweeping change to occur. But by workplaces embracing diversity, institutions dismantling funding inequality and addressing the college affordability crisis, researchers believe more young workers can walk away with good jobs.