The Crash Plus 1: Is education an answer in rebuilding America?

Education during unemployment

Is more education an answer to future employment?

One of the functions of higher education is to keep people out of the workforce—or at least give them something to do while they bide their time, waiting for jobs to open up.

Don’t get me wrong. More education also imparts knowledge and skills—all useful to have in the job market. But education is also a giant shock absorber in the economy during bad times.

During the Great Depression, more students than usual stayed in high school and earned their diplomas. Dropping out wasn’t the attractive alternative it once was in a boom economy.

These days, more people are deciding to attend college than usual because the alternative is unemployment. Getting a college degree will make them more attractive if the labor market improves in a few years.

Instead, however, we may see a lengthening of the educational obstacle course. In my parents’ generation, getting a high school diploma was considered higher education. In my generation, a college degree was the new high school diploma. For today’s young generation, graduate degrees may be required to get you to the starting line in the race to good employment.

The lost generation, I fear, will be those who are 50+ and who lost their jobs during this recession. Higher education doesn’t absorb older economic castaways. They may be facing permanent unemployment or underemployment—I call it structural unemployment. That might be the lasting legacy of our current economic woes.

What do you think?
    Have you—or someone you know—returned to school or stayed in school due to lack of employment?
    Do you know anyone who might be numbered among the structurally unemployed?

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