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High School Degree Not Enough to Open Doors for Job Seekers

A June 2012 report issued by the Rutgers University John J, Heldrich Center for Workforce Development is titled, Left Out, Forgotten? Recent High School Graduates and the Great Recession. The report detains how poorly workers with only a high school degree have done regarding employment from 2006 through 2011. The report was based on survey performed by GFK of Palo Alto. It is believed that GFK has the only nationally representative sample of this demographic group that may be surveyed online.

Looking at the report data, it is astounding to read that only three of every ten high school graduates from 2006 to present are employed full time. Reverse the number and it is astonishing to learn that 70 percent of these high school graduates are unemployed or under employed. College graduates over the same time are employed at twice the rate – 60 percent have full time jobs.  Clearly, a high school degree does not open as many doors as it used to and the need for some type of high education is evident as an economic necessity. It should also be noted that some 27 percent of this group are unavailable for full time employment as they are enrolled in college on a part time basis.

Over half of employed high school graduates acknowledge that their present employment is just “a job to get them by.” Meanwhile, 8 percent say their job is in line with their career path.  The other 36 percent of HS graduates view their current employment as a stepping stone to a career. Overall though, job satisfaction is fairly high with 60 percent of survey participants indicating “being very or somewhat satisfied” with their current job. If they are satisfied why then do so many see these positions as a position to launch from?

The answer is in the numbers:

  • 9 out of ten are employed as hourly wage earners and are not salaried
  • 7 out of ten are in temporary positions
  • 3 in ten have found permanent employment
  • 1 in ten earn an annual salary
  • The median starting wage is barely above the minimum wage and is $8.25 per hour

Those who graduated during the recession (2009, 2010 and 2011) have a higher unemployment rate than those who graduated before the recession (2006, 2007 and 2008). Twenty percent of high school graduates are working part time while looking for a full time position. The total of employed and under employed high school graduates seeking full time work is 45 percent. One half of them graduated during the recession.

Finding work is not easy for the unemployed. Half of them have been actively looking for longer than six months, while 3 in ten have been searching for over a year. Many are disheartened; half of those not working expect that it will take a year for them to find a full time job. The other half could not even guess.

Perhaps this uncertainty is best explained that of all those looking for a job, 80 percent have not received even one job offer. It appears that a high school degree, long believed to be a door opener for job seekers is not a good enough educational credential any longer. Higher education increases job prospects exponentially. Fortunately, grants and loans still make a higher education accessible to most high school graduates.