Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings

May 29, 2013

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In the past, a college degree all but assured job seekers employment and high earnings, but today, what you make depends on what you take. In Hard Times 2013, we show differences in unemployment and earnings based on major for BA and graduate degree holders. We show that STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics — majors typically offer the best opportunities for employment and earnings, while unemployment is higher for graduates with non-technical degrees.

Here are some of our major findings:

  1. Even as the housing bubble seems to be dissipating, unemployment rates for recent architecture graduates have remained high (12.8%). Graduate degrees and work experience did not shield these graduates from a sector-specific shock; graduates with experience in the field have the same jobless rates as the economy overall (9.3%).
     
  2. Unemployment is generally higher for non-technical majors, such as the arts (9.8%) or law and public policy (9.2%).
     
  3. People who make technology are still better off than people who use technology. Unemployment rates for recent graduates in information systems, concentrated in clerical functions, is high (14.7%) compared with mathematics (5.9%) and computer science (8.7%).
     
  4. Unemployment rates are relatively low for recent graduates in education (5.0%), engineering (7.0%), health and the sciences (4.8%) because they are tied to stable or growing industry sectors and occupations.
     
  5. Graduates in psychology and social work also have relatively low rates (8.8%) because almost half of them work in healthcare or education sectors.