Youth unemployment poll casts doubt on ‘skip college’ advice

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout
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Even as entrepreneurs and intellectuals have been debating whether there's an overpriced "higher education bubble" in America, a new AP poll sheds light on how young people with only a high school education are suffering in the job market.

Just 40 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds surveyed who entered the job market with only a high school diploma have a job right now. About 75 percent said they worried about having enough money to make it week to week.

The unemployment rate for high school grads under 24 was at 10 percent in March 2007, before the recession hit. For the past three years, the figure has been at 20 percent.

But for young college graduates, unemployment is only at 8.5 percent.

These stark numbers help to ground a conversation taking place in the National Review and The Economist, among other publications, about whether higher education is currently overvalued in America. PayPal founder Peter Thiel argued that higher education is a "classic" bubble because it is both overpriced and something that commands fierce—even unquestioning—devotion. Thiel is starting a program to encourage bright kids to drop out of college and start businesses.

Thiel's also not the first to make the case that higher education is overvalued, as average college debt has soared over the past few years to nearly $24,000. In fact, 75 percent of those surveyed by the AP who did not attend college cited cost as the main reason. (A recent study found that the crisis in college affordability mainly affects the nation's poorest kids, and threatens to price them out of higher education.)

As the AP poll reminds us, if you're a 23-year-old with a high school degree who is unemployed and worries about having enough money to survive, the hard numbers correlating employment and higher education are probably more compelling than the opinions of wealthy tech entrepreneurs.

Check out the chart, below (via The Economist), showing wages and unemployment by education level in 2009.

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(Thiel says skip college: AP)