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The job market for 2014 grads: still awful

Don't be blue, buddy. Having a degree is way better than not-having one.
Don't be blue, buddy. Having a degree is way better than not-having one.
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The class of 2014 is graduating into a job market that might charitably be described as a disaster.

There's plenty of evidence on this point, as several commentators have pointed out. The class of 2014 will emerge into an economy with a jobless rate of 6.5 percent, and new grads' prospects will be even worse than that. Young college graduates face a jobless rate of 8.5 percent, according to recent data from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning Washington, DC-based think tank.

Not only that, but EPI finds that 16.8 percent will be underemployed, meaning they will either be working part-time despite wanting full-time work, or they will have stopped looking for work despite wanting a job (this is what is called the U-6 unemployment rate in the monthly jobs report).

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Not only that, but college grads are more likely to find low-paid work than their predecessors. A January report from the New York Federal Reserve Bank (highlighted by Slate's Jordan Weissmann) found that a shrinking share of recent college graduates were finding "good jobs" — those that pay $45,000 or more — and the share working low-wage jobs (those that pay $25,000 or less) had climbed considerably since the late 1990s.

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That said, this year's college grads may want to thank their lucky stars/parents/work study/Sallie Mae for their diplomas anyway. And that's for the simple reason that today, college trumps not-college.

Young college graduates may have a higher unemployment rate than their older peers, but that's always true, for a number of reasons. The unemployment rate for college graduates is always lower than the jobless rate for high school grads.

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And wages are higher for college graduates than non-graduates, as the Pew Research Center found in a February report. True, pay for college grads has stagnated since the late boomers graduated in 1986, but wages for high school graduates, not to mention people with 2-year degrees and college dropouts, have fallen considerably since then.

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Even if you're saddled with student debt, these numbers make it look worth it — $45,500 with monthly debt payments (especially if you go the pay-as-you-earn route) might be painful, but likely not as much as earning only $28,000 without debt.

None of which is to belittle the challenge of being 22 and facing a big, scary, jobless world; "it could be worse" is about the coldest and most irritating comfort possible. And depending on what major grads chose, the future might look relatively bright or particularly scary.

But broadly speaking, the choice of whether or not to go to college these days is a choice between a tough job market or a fantastically tough one. Class of 2014, congratulations on getting to experience the former.