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What's the Real Unemployment Rate Among College Graduates? New York Times Debunks a Growing Myth

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FLICKR USER MARK RAMSAY, CC BY 2.0


More than two million degrees were handed out to graduates of U.S. colleges and universities in the past few weeks, but the news was not stellar June 3 when the U.S. Department of Labor announced only 38,000 new jobs had been added to the nation's payrolls in May.

Following release of the new jobs numbers, some in the media turned to the question: "What is the unemployment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds who have graduated from a four-year college?"

The New York Times put that question to the test in a poll and got some surprising answers. The Times reports only 14 percent of poll respondents knew the answer and only 13 percent of people surveyed by Google knew the right answer—that the unemployment rate for degree holders is actually much lower than most people think.

"What was truly intriguing was that so many people answered in the completely wrong direction," wrote Quoctrung Bui in The Times' "Upshot" column. "What surprised us was that the majority of people thought that unemployment rates for those with college degrees were higher than for those without."

It turns out the most common answers were between 20 and 30 percent unemployment rates for college graduates. When the question was asked a second time, this time telling respondents the national unemployment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds without a four-year degree was 7 percent—more than half thought that the jobless rate for college graduates was again higher. Even when The Times surveyed friends and parents, many of whom are educators, they too mostly guessed college graduates would be more likely to be unemployed.

Is the news media to blame?

"Many articles have been written in recent years questioning the value of college," wrote Bui. "Our survey results suggest that articles like these have really taken hold with the public."

What's the real answer? In May it was only 2.4 percent.