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It’s a Good Time To Be a New Grad

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It’s a Good Time To Be a New Grad

May 31, 2018

As droves of regalia-clothed graduates sit through the yearly liturgy of lawn-side speeches and gym pep talks this commencement season, the usual assortment of mentors and celebrities is pitying them for beginning their careers in the Age of Trump.

In her recent  commencement address at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Oprah Winfrey lamented that “you can’t go anywhere — you can’t stand in line at Starbucks, you can’t go to a party, you can’t go anywhere without everyone talking about how bad things are, how terrible it is.”

However, a cursory look at macro and jobs data reveals that America's class of 2018 is about to enter one of the rosiest labor markets in living memory.

Though the Department of Education’s National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES) is yet to come up with the number of degrees and certificates awarded by the nation’s universities in 2017-2018, last year’s figure of almost 5 million new graduates is a conservative estimate based on the past decade’s record of cohort growth deceleration.

These graduates will be able to choose from 6.6 million job vacancies, the highest number on record. Openings are also being filled quickly with 5.4 million hires made the same month. These young applicants will be more successful in that race for jobs than at any time in the past.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from October 2017—the month when employment of new graduates is monitored—the previous cohort featured the highest employment-to-population ratio across all degree types since the Great Recession.

For the larger youth age group of 20-24, the first 4 months have of 2018 have featured a higher average labor force participation rate than the same period of any year going back to 2009. At 67 percent, the employment-to-population ratio for this group remains higher than any month from 2009 through 2017.  At 6.7 percent, the youth unemployment rate is near the lowest levels since first data entry in January 2008.

For bachelor’s degree earners, the employment-to-population ratio stands at 78 percent for the 2 million recent recipients aged 20 to 29—the highest since 2008 and far above the population-wide ratio of 60 percent. But the employment bonanza is even sweeter for laureates of associate’s degrees, for whom the figure is practically 80 percent after a staggering climb through the past 3 years.

The auspicious prospects for the less academically-inclined are mostly due to burgeoning training opportunities. At around 553,600, there are more apprenticeships today than at any time in the past decade according to the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration.

Fiscal Year 2017 saw more than 190,000 enrollments, 64,000 graduations and 2,369 new apprenticeship programs, pushing the overall number of programs to more than 22,000.

Data on wage paints an equally promising landscape for incomers. At $576, real median weekly earnings for full-time workers ages 20 to 24 in the first quarter of 2018 were the highest since 2009.

Further signs of a propitious job market are to be found in graduates’ career plans and expectations upon leaving school. In a 2017 survey of recent grads by Accenture Strategy, 37 percent more than in the year prior were found willing to work for large companies, the best placed to provide the complete list of items most sought after - glowing career paths, steep learning curves and competitive salaries.

Along with a distinctly marketable batch of new abilities comes a refreshing sense of practicality. Seventy-three percent of graduates in 2017 had taken digital-related or computer science courses in college, 84 percent had completed internships or apprenticeships, and 75 percent were willing to relocate. New graduates are bringing their skill sets and work ethics in line with a job market that is better able than ever to absorb them.

The job prospects of new American graduates appear even brighter when compared to their OECD peers. At only 8.4 percent, the U.S. youth unemployment rate (15 to 24) as of April 2018 is higher only than Japan’s, a country with a dire demographic predicament due to its ageing population. In other advanced economies with otherwise comparable macro metrics, youth unemployment rates remain shockingly high—39 percent in Spain and 44 percent in Greece, for instance.

There are myriad ways to gauge the fate of young American professionals and they all tell the same story: there has not been a better time to enter the workforce in years. As a darker tone taints the customarily upbeat commencement rhetoric, graduates should be reminded of the opportunities awaiting them and encouraged to think bigger than ever.

Jorge González-Gallarza Hernández is a policy associate at Economics21. Follow him on Twitter here

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