What Does a College Degree Get You?

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In a recent presentation on Youtube by economists Richard D Wolff he discussed a new Amazon warehouse that opened in Northern Massachusetts with financing and tax breaks from the state and with great fanfare.  The warehouse mostly automated had openings for jobs paying from $12 an hour to $14.75 an hour.  All of the jobs were 30 hours or less a week (presumably to avoid providing healthcare.)


The jobs on the upper end were team leader jobs that required a college degree.  So the college graduate likely with thousands in student loan and credit card debt was looking at about $23K a year.  Needless to say this would likely prohibit independent living unless there was a spouse making at least that if not more. 


Unfortunately the jobs at the Amazon warehouse are representational of most jobs today.  Let's say we have two college graduates either living together or married working at Amazon.  Out of their $46K a year they will pay FICA, state taxes and possibly a local tax.  They will have rent (in Northern MA it runs about $1K a month for a one bedroom apartment), utilities, at least one car payment, student loan and credit card debt incurred while going to school and healthcare insurance not provided by Amazon.  Add into the mix gas, food and other expenses and you quickly see two people that probably don't have $100 sitting in a savings account.  One incident away from financial disaster.


If you want to understand our economy here is a hypothetical example based on a real world job.  Mr. Bezos made of billions and collects companies like some people collect antiques.  What's he going to do for customers when the bulk of Americans are finally squeezed into his type of employment?  Will the robots at Amazon Prime sit rusting waiting for orders that are now longer coming?


When I graduated from college in 1981 I started in banking a princely sum of $11K a year, probably adjusted for inflation close to $23K a year now.  Of course I had fully paid medical, dental vision, pension, paid time off and short term disability which would cover a full paycheck for up to 60 days.  Within 3 years with the same employer I was up to $25K a year.  Do you think Mr. Bezo's $14.75 an hour employees will more than double their pay within three years?  Likely not.


This is the new American economy.  Low wages, no benefits, little job security, no career mobility, long on desperation and hope short on results.  Get used to it.


wsucram15 Added Aug 27, 2017 - 6:10pm
George you are really on a roll here...hey keep using musical bands names in the titles, views every time, guaranteed.  LOL. JK
Low wages, no jobs no job security, no career mobility, long on desperation and short on hope.  Yeah that sounds about right.  Like you, I watched it kill someone.
I dont see it getting any better and thats AFTER I told my story to the press and spoke to Congress myself personally.
I dont care who you put in the white house..nothing will change for anyone. Not until we stand up to this..it isnt even our right..its a duty.
Leroy Added Aug 27, 2017 - 6:36pm
Maybe we can take the song by Johnny Cash "Sixteen Tons" and change it to Sixteen Years.
You study sixteen years, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
opher goodwin Added Aug 27, 2017 - 6:41pm
Same over here George.
opher goodwin Added Aug 27, 2017 - 6:42pm
Nice one Leroy. That works.
opher goodwin Added Aug 27, 2017 - 6:43pm
Wsu - we're in the low-pay, no security economy where all the profits are shuffled to the top. That's capitalism.
Saint George Added Aug 28, 2017 - 4:15am
Incapacitated and confused.
As opposed to your own personal stance, which might accurately be described as "dogmatically intolerant."
Got it.
Minister Peaceful Poet Added Aug 28, 2017 - 6:09am
Bill Kamps Added Aug 28, 2017 - 6:21am
The sad part is that the Amazon jobs will get filled.  The college degree people will likely be those with English Lit, or Art History degrees, who got useless degrees in the first place.
The real tragedy are the students to go into debt to get a degree for which there are no jobs in their field.  You can still get a degree in Library Sciences, and while there still these kinds of jobs, there aren't many, and they dont have much of a future.
Fortunately Amazon, and other corporations their size, do not employ the majority of workers in the US.  Half of all jobs in the USA are in companies with less than 500 workers, with 33% of jobs in companies with less that 100 workers.  Smaller companies are more flexible in their requirements, and generally reward workers who can get the work done, rather than just fill a job requirement. 
George N Romey Added Aug 28, 2017 - 6:40am
Business formation is at an all time low  while many smaller businesses aren't able to expand. The new jobs number presented each month is in part based upon a 1990s business birth/death model no longer valid. Increasingly Americans are going to be dependent upon big business for employment. BTW it's not just English Lit majors bring forced into these jobs but finance and pre law as well.
Bill Kamps Added Aug 28, 2017 - 7:01am
George, stats are a funny thing. Yes there are fewer companies being formed now than before.   However, its not like we are down to a few dozen, there were 450K new companies formed last year, down from a norm of around 500K, or about a 10% decline.  Hardly doom and gloom, and hardly forcing people to only choose the Fortune 500 as their employer. 
Of course the 450K new companies formed last year, are added to the 4-500K formed the year before and so on.  Now lots of them never turn into anything, but they all represent an opportunity.  There are millions of viable small companies out there.
Pre-law, that is funny.  We already have too many lawyers, and if you arent actually going to be a lawyer, then what use is pre-law?  Finance is a little more useful, but how about accounting instead? where one could open your own firm with little effort once getting a CPA.  All those new companies need CPAs.  CPAs are always in demand, finance majors not so much because they need a big company.
We should be thinking a bit before we get a degree, not just choosing one because it feels good.
Leroy Added Aug 28, 2017 - 9:13am
"Pre-law, that is funny.  We already have too many lawyers, and if you arent actually going to be a lawyer, then what use is pre-law?"
That's the truth.  We have way too many lawyers.  It's no longer the pathway to wealth, unless you make partner and that's harder these days, I hear.  Many lawyers can't find jobs these days.  Young lawyers and even not so young lawyers are treated as pieces of meat.  One told me that he has to borrow money every year and pay the firm in advance what he is expected to make for the firm.  Anything over and he gets to keep it.  Talk about pressure.
Skip Stein Added Aug 28, 2017 - 9:43am
I'll jump in and add my 2 cents.  I am a LOT older than most of the folks on this site; hell, I'm a lot older than most people and few of us old farts are as active on the Net as I am. But I AM an old geek.
I finally graduated with a degree in Psyc in 1973 after a long time of day/night school when I was working either part time or full time (full time during the later years).  I also worked at a bank after a short stint in a print shop on the University of Houston campus and a few months stocking cans in a local grocery store.  on the University of Houston campus.  I switched majors a dozen times but fell in love with computers at the bank. Back then you actually sat INSIDE them for repairs!
I got damned lucky as the President of the Bank (First City National) was also on the Board of Regents at U of H so had a 'part time / full time' program.  My base hours started at 20 but I got 'full time' benefits; even time 1/2 for overtime!  LUCKY!
I stayed there for 7 years and worked my way up from 'tape monkey' to IT Manager before I left for a new start-up in garbage (Browing-Ferris) which became the largest waste management company in the USA.  Anyway, my degree got me little but a broad based exposure to a lot of stuff; they hand't yet developed an IT program.  I learned tech/programming/management on the job from several excellent mentors.
My degree did one and only one thing for me in the job market.  It OPENED ONE DOOR.  I got a shot at a Manager job at Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co. (now KPMG) with a reference from my boss at the garbage company (another story).  I would never, EVER have gotten through that door without a degree (don't forget it was in Psyc!).
Later on I started my own company and for 24 years ran my own business.  I closed it last year to focus on our new focus in Health & Wellness (Whole Foods 4 Healthy Living) and it's lines of business.  Just getting a bit of traction with those ventures.
So a degree might open doors, but with today's liberal campus it may do more harm than good as kids don't/can't/won't work their way through as most of us old farts had to.  No student loan programs back in the dark ages.
Idiotic regulations/laws prohibit kids from getting jobs when they are young to learn what it's like to manage money and WORK.  The liberal approach to "The World Owes Me a Living" hasn't worked and we see the results today.  There are few who actually Know How to WORK.
Jeff Jackson Added Aug 28, 2017 - 9:50am
Right on George. If any student asked me if they should get a humanities or liberal arts degree I would say emphatically no. STEM, science, technology, engineering and math are the degrees to get. So what if the engineer can't write or describe anything with any writing ability, they're still going to make at least $70k right out of college. No matter that the software developer can't explain how the software works, or even write a job description of what they do, they still make $70k right out of college. So what if the liberal arts major can explain complex processes and figure out solutions, they're lucky to make $25k. One of my computer science teachers said that programmers have some of the lowest productivity of all occupations. I believe that.
Leroy Added Aug 28, 2017 - 10:15am
Who knows if STEM is the best in the long haul.  Much of it is being farmed out to India.  The IT world knows this very well.  They were once put on a pedestal.  No more.  As far as design work goes, it can be done in India as well as it can be done in the US.  There is still a need for field engineers, but that is a tough job.  Not everyone is cut out for it.  All you have to do is peruse YouTube to see where all the math whizzes are located.  If you are in the right field, science might be good, but the grunt work is still farmed out to India.  You have to be good.  My colleague's wife has a master's in biology and hopes to work at a place such as the CDC.  No jobs available.  She gave up and is now working on her Ph.D.  It's like doubling down to recoup your loses.  Maybe you get lucky before you run up against the house limit.
Richard Plank Added Aug 28, 2017 - 10:20am
Just a little bit of oversimplification all around don't you think?  Where you get the degree, what degree, when, and how all impact both long and short term, direct and indirect impacts of the value of a  degree.  Statistically I suspect the liberal arts degree from Yale is more apt to get the offer from a major consulting company where as the degree from  you local four year commuter college will get you the Amazon job.  Education is a time oriented and lifelong process.  One can look at different  models, for example get a liberal arts degree from a very good school and them go on to get some kind of masters in a more job oriented field.  Not an unusual model at all.  Very few people need to be in debt for college they just don't have all the choices.  If you are really  poor and really smart some Ivy will give you a free ride.  Otherwise you muddle through taking part time classes and working.  I see successful people in all models it is what  you make of it that counts. However, where seems to open more doors and give you  more possibilities.  I think Bill  has it right on business formations, but I suspect the mix might be changing, but don't have data.  I am not sure what a pre-law major is and I suspect it may vary somewhat depending on where it is offered, much like pre-med which does not seem to be in vogue as much as it used to be.  As usual George a thought provoking article.
Dino Manalis Added Aug 28, 2017 - 10:22am
A college degree should get you a good job, but that's why recruiters are so important to advise students and schools on needed job skills and schools have to prepare prospective employees!
George N Romey Added Aug 28, 2017 - 10:28am
First the data I saw from SCORE and other sources shows no business formation down by approximately 50%.  Again, not everyone can be a STEM graduate and given the increase use of Indians (and soon Chinese) who knows what those degrees will be worth in four years.  The moral of the story is that we as a country are not producing enough decent jobs to provide for sustained living.  Lucky ones have family to lean on.  Others get lost in the maze of social services.  Others become addicted to drugs.
I've met my share of graduates in finance, marketing and technical degrees in jobs way below their skill set.  Even more are all of the 50 plus forced to work below their skill set or even worse part time.  This is a national crisis but first Obama and now Trump point to the "recovering" economy. 
This will ultimately lead to social unrest.  At some point the number of angry people is going to hit a milestone and sadly they will likely fight amongst themselves.
Leroy Added Aug 28, 2017 - 11:30am
Most people are satisfied.  I posted a study some time back.  I don't think they fully grasp what is on the horizon.  You can see it.  Most people are buying bigger houses than they need.  They have SUVs For each driver.  They have cable TV with outrageous prices.  They have swimming pools and take fancy vacations.  The music is still playing.  Some lost out on the first round.
George N Romey Added Aug 28, 2017 - 11:41am
Because our financial system is so leveraged it doesn't take extreme amount of default for the system to crash. Hence what happened with 2008 versus what happened when real estate crashed in the 70s.
Living in Mahattan in 2008 the number of people I saw living large with not a care in the world to total disaster overnight was mind numbing. Three I knew committed suicide including one close friend. That close friend just a year before was given an immediate sign on bonus of $25K by the same company that fired him claiming too much of a financial hardship to pay much of a severance. Most Americans are still living like it's 1999.
George N Romey Added Aug 28, 2017 - 2:38pm
You can't expect an 18 year old to have the wisdom of a 45 year old. And again markets change.  My mother was a nurse, didn't make much money and lots of stress so she obtained her MBA then PHD and moved into hospital management.  When I went to college nursing was considered a field you would never make much money in .  However, things have changed as the healthcare field has shifted a lot of former doctor duties to nurses.  If I knew in 1977 what I knew now I would have followed my mother's footprints. 
Not everyone can be a STEM student and if there was a sudden rush (which I get the feeling there already is) it becomes like a law degree.  Lots of freshly minted lawyers doing  non law almost clerical work for $30K a year.  Young lawyers used to start off in research.  However, much of that is being handed over to cheap foreign workers (outsourced or insourced) or in some cases is being done by AI. Same for finance and accounting-don't I know.
My brother has a business degree from Duke and a Masters in Information Technology from John Hopkins and was laid off today (actually given 3 weeks notice).  I have a masters from Maryland, considered one of the best state business schools and I do here today gone tomorrow contract work.  I know so many more like myself and my brother I've lost track.
The bottom line is that if our future means low paid jobs even for those that take initiative to prepare for the world of work this won't be a pretty place to live.  Again, if things weren't so bad explain Trump.  Would he ever had been taken seriously 20 years ago?
Dave Volek Added Aug 28, 2017 - 3:10pm
I think Skip summarized a college degree quite well: it opens doors. Even liberal arts degree have indirect advantages in the workplace. For example, bachelor of psychology is unlikely to land any work in that field, but if that person ends up in Starbucks as there is little else, that person can use her knowledge of psychology to move forwards in the Starbucks organization (or even start her own business).
People who get college degrees have shown the world these attributes:
1. They have a higher level of literacy and math skills.
2. They have a high work ethic.
3. They have a sense of priorities.
4. They have critical thinking skills; i.e. can break a big problem into smaller problems, solve the smaller problems, bring those answers to the solve the big problem.
5. They have shown an ability to learn new things.
6. They finish something they have started.
This does not mean non-degree workers do not have these attributes. It means that degreed workers have proven these attributes. That is what opens doors.
If a young person has a strong interest in a particular academic field, I would encourage them to go through with it. They may not find a job in that field, but the college degree will teach them other important life styles.
George N Romey Added Aug 28, 2017 - 3:24pm
College prior to WW2 was far less about getting a job. We've come to expect a college degree the key to an economically rewarding life. 
This is no longer the case. And while the "learning experience" sounds lofty it doesn't translate into a decent paycheck. College grad or not a world of part time/gig workers won't bode well for social stability. Like the 30s not everyone will suffer but enough will. This might be a slow multi year grinding down.
Dave Volek Added Aug 28, 2017 - 6:47pm
Even in STEM subjects, jobs are often not forthcoming after a four-year degree. And even in a hot economic climate for young engineers may not be there in four years time. This was true 40 years ago as it is today. There never was a golden age when a degree meant a good job placement after graduating. 
There is a risk to getting a college degree, for sure. But if the right door opens because of that degree, the investment pays off big time. 
As my previous post suggested, there is a lot of informal training happening to the individual who attains a degree. The fortitude it took to get that degree is something that individual can take with them anywhere.
And I would wager that, even today, the average income of 20-30 year olds is considerably higher for those who have a degree and those who do not.
In the end, people make choices. Hopefully they have the right information to make those choices. And if a young person has the academic skills, opportunity,  means, and passion to go to college, I say they should take it. 
George N Romey Added Aug 28, 2017 - 7:08pm
That college degree is not paying the dividends it once did. The issue is not a degree or not but the death of social mobility. As I said in my personal case I started close to that same wage adjusted for inflation but quickly moved up and I was not unique. 
wsucram15 Added Aug 28, 2017 - 10:19pm
Leroy and Bill;
Pre-Law..is a field of  study related to the law that will require ether a certificate or further study to attain a degree. Some police officers and military personnel attain these for various reasons, as do Paralegals.
It is not as recommended for admittance into law school as it once was, the decline rate of Pre-Law students is about 40%.
George is right..college isnt paying off in the US, very, very expensive and the jobs to pay the loans back just arent there for most.   I had an assistant that graduated on deans list from a local university here with a 4 year Psychology degree.  She had all the right internships and did well as I did get a report for her time off.  One of them was in the criminal juvenile division, very difficult work.  Could not get a job anywhere.
So you know what she does now?   Financial Accounting..that I taught her and she has done very well.  But she has a degree and knows accounting.  She tells me no one has ever asked her for her diploma.
I know someone else that makes a nice chunk of change every year and they never even got a certificate in their line of work..they just had a knack for it.   One of my former CEO's same way.
The diploma is something you pay for to get your foot in the door like everything else you have to pay for to get your resume looked at, but the jobs arent there.
Shane Laing Added Aug 29, 2017 - 3:47am
I totally with Wsucram here. Its just something to get your foot in the door. My daughter has just passed her Masters in Art Therapy but trying to get a job is proving very difficult.
Glenn Verasco Added Aug 29, 2017 - 5:54am
"When I graduated from college in 1981 I started in banking a princely sum of $11K a year, probably adjusted for inflation close to $23K a year now.  Of course I had fully paid medical, dental vision, pension, paid time off and short term disability which would cover a full paycheck for up to 60 days.  Within 3 years with the same employer I was up to $25K a year."
In 1981, federal debt was 31% of GDP. It's now 105%. Maybe you guys lived outside your means and gave my generation zero guidance?
Bill Kamps Added Aug 29, 2017 - 10:23am
College degrees have some value if they are the right degree.  However, they are not a ticket to a prosperous future, they are a start.  Because of the rising costs, many are not worth the money students pay for them.  One needs general degrees, that can easily transfer to other fields. Mechanical engineering, electrical engineers, medicine, accounting, etc.   Degrees that let you get a job, and that will always be in demand preferably in multiple industries.  IT is too easy to outsource, Finance, Liberal Arts, Marketing, Business, etc, today they are not worth the cost of the degree.
To succeed through your career you need to build a network.  That is the value of the prestige schools.  You dont learn a lot more at Stanford, or Harvard, but you meet people who will likely have great success, the start of your network.  Whether you went to Harvard or not, you need to continue to build your  network through your career.  If you think you will get a job by sending our resumes, think again.  Not only is that now not a way to do it, it was never a good way.  You  get jobs from your network, people that know you, trust you and know your work.
You better be prepared to change your career completely once or twice.  I dont mean change your employer, I mean change completely what you do, because it is likely what you used to do, wont be an answer for 30-40 years.  I changed twice already, and will likely change again in the next year or two.
Skip Stein Added Aug 29, 2017 - 10:51am
Michael Cikraji - BAM, right on my friend.  I've always told, well anyone who will listen, that EVERY American should have their own business at some level.  Whether it is just a Sole Proprietorship 'side business' like selling product/service or anything else.  It is a great 'fall back' when/if needed and may actually become your main source of income over the years.  Besides, even with the horrendous tax system, small business STILL has significant tax advantages.
Even starting your Corporation is pretty easy, just costs about $350 in most states for a Sub-S or LLC registration and not much annually.  
This provides the basis for you to 'branch out', become a consultant/adviser or leverage any other knowledge/talent you have.  SO many things to choose from in almost every conceivable industry.  Just DO It!  Become a Free Agent today!
See http://freeagent.skipstein.com/
George N Romey Added Aug 29, 2017 - 1:06pm
I've taken up additional skills and resources and its saved my ass.  However, I am a single man not trying to work 10 hours a day (which you will work if you are overtime exempt) and take care of a family.  This week in addition to my day job and doing merchandise resets getting about an hour of sleep each night until Friday.
wsucram15 Added Aug 29, 2017 - 5:35pm
 I found in 2013 that no one wanted to hire anyone in at 49,50 years old in my field with only a Bachelors degree. although I could find temp work.   That was for the younger trainable kids, even though they had a higher turnover.
Then I began my masters later on and since it was law and I didnt have the J.D. it was a difficult program for me to get into. But with a referral, my legal background and with my grades I was accepted. 
You have to be willing with a masters to work something else. I met a woman with a specialized engineering masters and she worked in the post office for a long time.
Another woman with a huge degree in psychiatry I met in DC, Never went back to  her regular job due to her age and weight, that I am aware of.  She had a friend tell her she was overweight and would not be hired due to that.   I never thought she was that over weight, very tall woman.  She ended up teaching part-time.
Both of these people were screened and interviewed  to speak in front of Congress about matter relating to the economy, jobs, the real statistics of unemployment and their stories of personal loss and how this impacted them. 
Later it was housing and foreclosure, pending legislation, unemployment and secondary education.  I think we even briefly touched on healthcare and its affects on various groups of people. 
There was a guy there that was young, he was an engineer his plant closed..he and his wife were getting ready to have a baby. 
He had a baby boy and worked in Sales for a time and then I think he went back to a plant.
 So many stories of these people..
Dave Volek Added Aug 29, 2017 - 5:45pm
Bill, Skip, and George
Great comments all, and I think this thread needs to branch out into other areas of the new economy.
I've had some experience in deliberating shifting careers, and it was not an easy road. And in the end, I gave up.
After several low paying jobs, I got lucky. I have settled on a reasonable job that puts me in the lower middle class. I am hoping the job holds for another ten years for me to retire but one cannot count on that. If I were to lose my current job, I doubt I could find another comparable job in my town, and I would have to move back into the "working poor" class.
Networking has not worked well for me. I am a classic introvert and find it difficult to engage in average discourse with many people. So I tend not to get noticed in social situations. While most of current and work colleagues have been happy with my performance, I'm not sure they are in any position to help me find work in a future profession--if I ever need this future profession. I'm not really seeing how my current job skills will be transferable to another occupation.
I know this sounds pessimistic, but I think my experience is typical of many people who find it difficult to adjust to a new reality. You can say "network more and better" or "get some more courses under your belt." But both of these take time and effort (unpaid) and it's not easy to see how how this investment today will be bear fruit five or ten years down the road. 
Saint George Added Aug 29, 2017 - 7:33pm
The private sector will not plan for the needs of the future.
"Sectors" don't exist except as abstractions. PRIVATE INDIVIDUALS plan for their own needs and their own future if only government let them do so without fucking up the purchasing power of money, relative prices, and freedom-of-entry into business ventures.
For some reason, skidmark-g, you are congenitally unable (or ideologically unwilling) to perceive INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE. You only see "aggregates", and "sectors."
Go piss up a tree, Marxist.
wsucram15 Added Aug 29, 2017 - 8:58pm
Dave..networking is everything..not just in your social group either.
In my area they have a group called Baltimore Networking. There is also After Networking Events and then notify them and look in your area.
You have to be on ALL social media to network as a professional and your media has to look professional.  No casual pictures, etc.
This is actually a required class in college now.  There are so many more sites out there than linkedIn, this page and FB.  Some are not free but get out there.
You should volunteer your time here and there to get out in the community..to network.
For interviews..have business cards (printed front and back), letterS of reference with a cover sheet of those references and a couple of extras, your cover letter and resume.  GET A CARD FROM THEM and send a thank you note immediately.
Register with your unemployment office..now my situation was different, but see if you can get an officer to see you.  Also make sure you are registered online with the state. Sometimes you can get a class with them, depends on the laws in each state.
Did it get me a job..yes and no, I was injured.  But I did all this and more and got tons of offers right at the same time I was in a arm cast and unable to work, still cant use my left hand sometimes.
Dave Volek Added Aug 30, 2017 - 12:00pm
WUSCRAM15: I should add that I've probably had close to 100 jobs in my lifetime. I don't do well in interviews because when I toot my own horn, it does not come out well. I have gained my jobs for two reasons: my network of people who have worked with me or a shortage of qualified workers. When I join a networking group of strangers, my personality really does not shine through very well. People have to know me to realize what I can bring to the workplace. And to know me, they have work with me, not sit with me at breakfast table once a week.
I am not qualified for my current job (11 years now). But no one with qualification answered the ad. I am very good at my job. But if this job goes, I'm not sure how my 11 years at this skill set but no credentials is going to help me get a job with similar pay.
While I can't dwell on losing my job for too long. I think my possible plight is similar to a lot of people, especially outside the professions. Skill sets are really not all that transferable as one changes occupations. 
Dissecting Leftism Added Sep 1, 2017 - 4:59am
Mr Romey is right:

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