‘Middle-educated’ workers: Unemployment rate hits new high

According to this morning’s BLS report, the unemployment rate for  ‘middle-educated’ workers–people with some college or an associate degree–hit a new high of 9.1% in September. That’s up from 8.2% in June, and the highest unemployment rate since this data started being collected 20 years ago.  

This is not the result of an improving labor market drawing in more willing workers who were sitting on the sideline. The labor force participation rate for this group is actually lower than it was in June.  I’m going to do more analysis of the numbers to see exactly what’s happening here.

Meanwhile, the labor market situation for college graduates seems to be bottoming out–‘improving’ would be too strong a word.


  1. I’m curious if college graduates are taking jobs below their education and pushing this crowd a little further into the unemployment line.

    • To some extent probably, but at the end of the day there is an aggregate lack of jobs. Following your hypothesis, you can as well argue that the “some college or associate” folks have taken jobs below their qualifications. A lot of those or their “proper” jobs are probably in the category of business services or general business operation (back office), which probably have a very pronounced “multiplier” aspect and will take a hit in any general recession.

  2. BTW, even after a quick web search I cannot interpret the phrase “some college or associate degree”. Does it mean “some college degree or associate degree” or “some college coursework (but no degree) or an associate degree”?

    The BLS lists the following categories around it:

    * Highschool degree but no college
    * Some college or associate degree
    * Bachelor degree or higher
    This would probably suggest “some college degree or associate degree”.

    • Mike Mandel says:

      It means time in college without a degree, or an associate degree. So it includes people who go for one year.

  3. Hi All,
    More interesting information. The question I guess is what does it mean? Perhaps it is an indication that a class of occupations is in decline – as would naturally happen from time to time as society changes. It would also be interesting to track average wages to see if the class of occupations is both less valued and less prevalent.
    The interesting question is what class(es) of occupations will arise to replace the lost class. I am guessing that military is scooping up a good few of the excess, but these have to be the young and fit. Perhaps growth industries might be associated with a decline in government services. These might include private security, secure enclave construction and perhaps private education.
    One thing that might be worth tracking is the rise of the “Facebook Entrepreneur”. Free infrastructure such as the internet, Facebook, Youtube etc presents a big opportunity for those looking for a large audience. Physical products can be manufactured anywhere in the world and marketed for free.

  4. On a micro-economic level, this raises more questions about the wisdom of college for many. Do these figures argue that a college degree is a must-have as our educators argue. Or is it an expensive waste of time for too many? According to a NYTimes article last fall:

    “While 2.8 million students enroll in some form of higher education each year, most do not proceed straight through to graduation. Only one in five of those who enroll in two-year institutions earn an associate degree within three years, and only two in five of those who start four-year colleges complete their degrees within six years.”

    So they struggle through for a few years, end up with big bills, and still no work?

    • There are too few (good) jobs for all, and the level of educational credential, figuring in the brand name reputation of the school, is a major filter for those jobs. If you don’t get the asked-for credentials, you will be barred from the job opportunity. If you do get the credentials, and they are already plentifully supplied, you may end up without a job anyway.

      One underlying factor is that many of the jobs not “requiring” college degrees have been automated or offshored, and/or job functions have been combined so that you have a mix of work some of which requires a degree and some of which doesn’t. For example, with office automation a lot of clerical work has been shoved to professionals who now have to handle their own correspondence, business paperwork (composing, printing, binding documents or presentations), book travel etc.

    • Of course, a big part of the problem is that college is an often substantial sum out of pocket to the prospective worker or the parents (or a nondischargeable loan on the back). If college would be like K-12, you would only have the opportunity cost of time, and funding living expenses.


  1. […] Sorry it took a while to pick this one up, but here’s an interesting bit of data for your consumption: ‘Middle Educated’ workers, or those who list some college or degrees less than a bachelor’s degree, were unemployed at a higher rate in September than ever before in the 20-year history of the statistic.  Yes, even more than last year when the overall unemployment rate was even higher.  From the chart included below (sourced from the Innovation and Growth blog): […]

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