State of The Union ’14

January 31, 2014 - 5 minutes read


On Tuesday, President Barack Obama revealed an executive order to show he’s serious about closing the inequality gap. He threatened a veto to show he’s serious about diplomacy in Iran. And he called congress to action to show he’s serious about immigration reform.

However, some 3.4 million twenty-something year-olds have a different concern: Is this administration serious about jobs for our recent college graduates?

“I have interns come into my office from Ivy league schools, extremely bright and articulate in their fields, and work for free just to get a leg up,” said Aisha Moodie-Mills, Senior Fellow and Director of the FIRE initiative at the Center for American Progress. She added, “Our college graduates are doing what they need to do, but we aren’t giving them enough help.”

Following a year that some of the president’s supporters have labeled as the “lost year,”  President Obama stood in the House Chambers earlier this week and delivered his fifth State of the Union address. He highlighted job creation and closing the inequality gap, but some were left wondering what this means for our prospective and recent college graduates, both of whom are facing a 12.6% unemployment rate.

“What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” said the President.

In his address, the president did not explicitly touch on the problem of unemployment among recent college graduates. He emphasized the manufacturing hubs proposed for the upcoming year, which will model the ones already established in Youngstown and Greensboro, and an across the board effort by Vice President Joe Biden to “reform American training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to jobs that need to be filled right now.”

But what about college graduates?

The problem of unemployment among recent college graduates is not new. The problematic labor market trend for our graduates stretches back to the late 1960’s and early 70’s, when baby boomers began to graduate from college. But the problem has persisted, and college graduates are still looking for answers.

One answer the president offered in his address was an effort by his administration to offer incentives to colleges extending a more valuable education to students. The President noted, “We’re shaking up our system of higher education to give parents more information, and colleges more incentives to offer better value.”

Some have proposed these incentives come in the form of Title IV reform, making it harder for schools with poor employment prospects to qualify for Federal Student Financial Aid Programs. Further, the Department of Education is currently working to provide information about the average earnings of former undergraduate students who borrowed Federal student loans. Yet others have claimed that the real issue is the lack of communication between the labor market and 4-year universities.

“We have to catalyze the dialogue between businesses and universities,” said Katherine Boe, a research coordinator with the Bridging Nations Foundation, “matching what business are looking to hire to what universities are looking to develop is a big step in the problem of graduate unemployment.”

Whether the president and this administration are lining up to take that step is indeterminate from his address on Tuesday. He did remind us that we are in the land of opportunity.  “Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise,” the president said during his annual speech.

When asked about that promise, Alexander Rittenhouse, a prospective spring graduate of Howard University, responded with skepticism. “I guess I’ll find out in four months,” he said. “Promise and college used to go hand in hand.”

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