Millennials Have Major Problem

By EMILY JASHINSKY | July 22, 2014

Who’s really listening to all the talk about jobs in Wisconsin?

Speaking as a college senior, I can confidently say that the plans and promises of this election season’s political candidates haven’t been heard by many of the students roaming our state campuses. They prefer to listen to Beyoncé.

Today’s college students came of age in the era of cable news. We know that the truth is hard to come by. So when politicians speak in platitudes about their ability to “create” jobs, most of us don’t believe them. Expending the effort to cut through the political double-talk just distracts us from pursuing our true interests: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

But in a state that graduated more than 35,000 college students in 2012, politicians should be talking about jobs. In fact, they should be doing more than just talking about them. And millennials should be listening.

Consider these numbers: In 2012, Wisconsin schools granted bachelor’s degrees to more than 1,700 psychology majors and nearly 2,600 social science majors. But according to the National Science Foundation, in 2010 only 12% of recent psychology and economics graduates (those who had graduated within the past three years) were employed in a related occupation. For my fellow political science majors, that number was 9%. It gets worse: A paltry 7% of recent sociology and anthropology majors found work in related occupations. In contrast, for engineering majors that number is 62%.

So why are so many people wasting tens of thousands — often hundreds of thousands — of dollars on degrees they don’t end up using?

Some students, like myself, are genuinely passionate about their social science degree and fully intend to pursue careers in their fields. Others major in these programs with the intention of going to law school or medical school. But what about the rest? Might they be pursuing a hobby rather than a plausible career? If so, it’s a difficult strategy to justify considering the exorbitant cost of a college degree.

To be fair, it’s important to note that roughly one-third of recent graduates in each of these majors had gone on to become full-time students. Whether these graduates were studying relevant fields with the intention of obtaining work related to their undergraduate majors or pursuing different academic subjects altogether is not clear. But even after taking into account the recent graduates who were full-time students, the post-graduation prospects for social science majors remain bleak. So where did the rest of the recent graduates in the NSF study actually end up?

Sixty percent of recent political science graduates and 62% of recent economics graduates were either unemployed or employed in an occupation unrelated to their major. For the sociology and anthropology majors, this number was 70%. Psychology majors fared slightly better on this measure, but were still either unemployed or employed in unrelated work at a rate of 53%. Allowing for the estimated 9% of recent psychology majors pursuing unrelated graduate degrees, the number of students who ended up in unrelated occupations or studies rises to 62%. As a point of reference, only 17% of engineering students were in a similar position.

Bearing in mind that Wisconsin students graduated with an average debt of $28,102 in 2012, the question becomes: Does a student’s interest in an academic subject, no matter how sincere, justify the high cost of a college education if that interest doesn’t lead to a career?

As my university’s graduate school adviser put it to me, college degrees are too expensive to get just for the heck of it. For most students, a viable career path after we graduate is absolutely essential.

Millennials, as the theory goes, were raised to believe in their uniqueness. Society encouraged them to follow their dreams and do what they love. Perhaps they are able to get by on these romantic notions of fulfillment until they enter the job market and realize they likely won’t earn their incomes by living out the plot of “The West Wing.”

Every social science major should consider two  essential questions:

·       Do I have concrete plans to use my college major after graduation?

·       Would a different major produce more benefit in the long run?

What’s more entertaining than keeping up with the economy? “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing both. My advice to my fellow social-science-oriented millennials: You, not the politicians, are responsible for finding a great career that fits your interests after you turn in that final women’s studies paper.

Emily Jashinsky of Delafield attends George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and is an intern at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column reflects her personal opinion.