Think College is Critical? Bureau of Labor Statistics Projections Suggest Otherwise

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has on its site information on the 30 occupations where the most jobs are expected to be added between 2010 and 2020. (See Table 6. The 30 occupations with the largest projected employment growth, 2010-20, or click here to see the table.)

The BLS projects that these 30 occupations will add approximately 9.3 million new positions by 2020. These positions would be completely new additions to the existing workforce and not dependent on attrition of the current workers.

They are listed in order of the number of new posts expected, with the top spot being registered nurse, which is no surprise, with an expected growth of almost 712,000 new positions. At the bottom of the list is medical assistant, with nearly 163,000 projected new positions.

Common sense would suggest that you are more likely to find a job in a field that is growing – such as retail salesperson, second on the list – than in a stagnant, saturated field where positions only open up when someone retires – such as the law, which is not on the list and happens to be my profession, not that I am seething with rage or anything.

Education Is the Future, If You Work in Education

Of the 30 occupations, only seven require education beyond high school. Two of them are healthcare occupations which require non-degree certificates. Of the five that require a degree, two are in healthcare (RN and Physician), two are in education (Teacher and Post-secondary professor) and the other one was accountant.

Registered nurse and postsecondary teaching are the only degree-required jobs in the top ten of the list. So, we will add 300,000 new instructors at college level even though there isn’t a single bachelor’s degree occupation in the top ten of fastest growing jobs. Such is our national obsession with college.

Of the 9.3 million new positions projected for these 30 occupations, 77 percent are to be in occupations that require a high school diploma or less.   Less? That’s right. Almost 42 percent of these 9.3 million positions will be in occupations that don’t even require a high school diploma.

In Fairness, I’ll Attack My Own Assertions

Clearly this isn’t a survey of the entire American labor market. There are people working in jobs that require higher education, and while a college degree might not be required for many of these positions it might be helpful.

Further, a number of jobs don’t require a college degree in any practical sense, but the employer superimposes the requirement through hiring practices, but requiring a college degree for a high school skills job doesn’t necessarily mean the wages will be any higher.

Then I’ll Hit the Anvil Again

These occupations will employ about 55 million Americans by 2020, if the growth projections are correct. That will be equivalent to roughly one-third of the American labor force, and the numbers are strongly tilted towards the positions which don‘t require advanced education.

The vast majority of college graduates are not going to be college professors, surgeons, or school teachers, so many graduates will be shooting for careers in slower growing fields, which is more a roll of the dice.

For millions of college graduates, the low-wage service sector will be the only reasonable option. More than half of recent graduates cannot even find full-time work.

These projections are also based on data from prior to 2010, and thus might not reflect the economic effects of Obamacare.

So, the sales clerks, cashiers, food servers and even registered nurses, could see their hours cut as a way of dodging Obamacare. Instead of working one job for peanuts you will be working two jobs for smaller peanuts, whether you have a degree or not.

New Economic Epoch

In the old economic order, a college degree was a solid way to increase your job possibilities as well as your earning potential. That economic epoch appears to be coming to a close. If the Cretaceous period had to end, so did the hegemony of the college graduate – the Cretaceous period had the T. rex, all the collegiate period had was hippy professors.

If I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, I’m not sure I would have bothered with college at all. It all seems to have been unnecessarily expensive and of questionable utility. I could have owned my own brewery by now…

If you don’t do anything silly, such as take on student loans, it really won’t be all that bad. You could work one or two jobs, maybe take some classes on the side, start your own business on the side, and cultivate some rewarding hobbies. If the Amish can farm, build furniture, and run roadside shops all at the same time, imagine what you can do with an iPad.


About the Author

Mr. Waechter is an attorney and a recent graduate of Drake University.


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