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Which Educated Workers Are Unemployed?


I’ve been watching the unemployment rate for college-educated workers rise from 2.3% a year ago, to 4.8% in May. But even that figure, I think, understates the pain in much of the ‘well-educated’ labor market.

So I separated workers with a bachelor’s degree or better into two categories. One category includes those who work in the healthcare, education, and government. The other category is everyone else with a college degree.

To give you a sense of scale, roughly 40% of college-educated workers are employed in healthcare, education, and government (By contrast, only 8% of college-educated workers are employed in manufacturing. Perhaps this helps explain why innovation has been so slow).

For workers with a college degree in the HealthEdGov sector, the unemployment rate in March/April 2009 was only 2.1%. But elsewhere in the economy, the unemployment rate for college-educated workers was a sturdy 5.5%.

(These numbers come from unpublished data from the Current Population Survey. They are for workers 25 years old and over, they are not seasonally adjusted, and they should be regarded as very unofficial).

Here’s a table which shows how the unemployment rate of the college- educated has changed over the past 2 years (top two lines).

What I take away from this: If you are an educated worker in the HealthEdGov sector, you’ve only felt moderate tremors from the downturn. Outside of that sector, times are much tougher for the college-educated.

Now let’s focus down and look at the college-educated unemployment rate in individual industries, including publishing (shhhh!).

The data below is calculated from the CPS using four month averages ending in April of each year. As before, this is unofficial data.

I've picked out some interesting industries, with high and low unemployment rates for educated workers.

Let's start from the top, which are the industries which had high college-educated unemployment rates in the first four months of 2009. For example, unemployment for college-educated workers in the computer and electronics manufacturing industry jumped from 2.6% in 2007 to 9.0% in 2009 (that's the red line, third from the top on the right).

Another tough industry for the college-educated, not suprisingly, is publishing. The unemployment rate in publishing for college grads (old and new) is up to 7.2% in 2009, from 2.4% in 2007 (the blue line, fourth from the top)

What *is* surprising to me is that the 7.2% unemployment rate in publishing for college grads is higher than the 6.1% unemployment rate in finance for college grads. It's also higher than the 5% rate in real estate.

By the way, I find it totally aggravating that publishing has a higher unemployment rate for college-educated workers than the two industries that helped cause the meltdown, finance and real estate.

At the other end of the spectrum, there's a bunch of industries which still have college-educated unemployment rates of 3% or less. These include the industries in the HealthEdGov sector, plus insurance (which may be driven by health insurance companies). It's a lot more secure in these industries.

Now, I want to emphasize one more time. These are unpublished numbers for a reason--they do not meet the BLS standard of reliability because the sample sizes are too small. I've dealt with some of that problem by merging multiple months, but it's still possible that these results reflect statistical noise rather than honest trends.

However, I thought they were pretty interesting.


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