Overqualified and Underpaid: Today's Graduate
The Devaluing of the College Degree
2007 was the year I started working a lot. Sure, I had other jobs prior to 2007; jobs that worked me once a week, or "jobs" that were given to me by family members and neighbors. In 2007, I got a job at a local retailer. It was horrible: I made about 20 cents more than minimum wage (which, at the time I thought was great, as I was a teenager with no credentials), worked five days a week with 35 hours. I pushed shopping carts out in the parking lot and cleaned the bathrooms once every half hour, because it is the only thing I was allowed to do under the age of 18. In Washington, it is against the law for those under 18 to do something, not sure what exactly, that prevents them from operating a cash register or a forklift. I got rained on, I got yelled at, I found dirty diapers (and worse!) in shopping carts and my back constantly hurt. It was 2007, and I had officially entered the workforce.
No, it wasn't full-time, but it sure as hell felt like it. As an 8-3:30 person, I took my lunch with the 8-4:30 people, came to work in the morning, counted down the hours, then went home. I complained about the same things that the older workers did, laughed at the same jokes, and ate the same chicken-strips-and-coke meal that they did. But I was different. I told myself I was different, that I could do more.
At the time, I was attending the local community college, working my Associate's degree. At this point in my life, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with myself. My brother was attending the same community college as me, and he was working on a transfer degree because he wanted to attend the University of Washington. I decided to do the same thing, and that I could probably figure out what I wanted to major in when I actually got to a university.
Many of my coworkers would stress like nothing else to GO TO SCHOOL, and to GET A DEGREE. Many of them could not afford to go to school, for reasons such as having children young, or needing to work 40 hours a week (40 hour positions typically require open availability, which isn't really an option if you're attending school).
At the community college, many of my classmates were older professionals returning to school. Many of them had grown children, and were now looking to advance their career (since they now had the time to do so). You know what they said to me? GO TO SCHOOL, and GET A DEGREE while you're still young.
It didn't take long for me to see that I needed to attend school, especially if I wanted to get out of retail.
2012 was the year I graduated college with a four-year degree.
I never figured out what I wanted to study after I came to a university. I ended up getting a humanities degree, and throwing myself into the masses of people with humanities degrees seeking meaningful employment.
I still work at that same retailer. I still work about 35 hours per week, my back still hurts, and I still find things to complain and laugh about with my coworkers.
It is a little different now. I make about five dollars more an hour than I did when I started. I have five weeks of paid vacation. I am allowed to use a register and operate a forklift. I work with a different set of people.
But there is a HUGE difference between 2007 and 2012 at this retailer: Many people have college degrees. I never really noticed it until I joined the masses of people with college degrees whom work at jobs that don't require college degrees. I guess I never noticed because I have always had this job, all throughout college (and at this point, it looks like the only smart thing I did was not quitting my part-time job, because I, unlike some of my graduating classmates, have not needed to move back with their parents).
The person who sells TVs? Bachelor's degree. The person who stocks the impulse items near the registers? Bachelor's degree. The person who sells paint? Bachelor's degree. The person who attends the gas station? Master's degree. I haven't even bothered picking out the Associate's degree people, but I know they are there, and they are plentiful.
Between 2007 and 2012, a lot has changed in the economy. Entry level job postings requiring college degrees are $10-$11 an hour (already less than I make at my retail job, which requires no degree). Many job postings requiring college degrees also require 5+ years of experience in that field (how are we supposed to get experience without any entry-level jobs?)
The grocery store managers who have no degree, who have been at their company for decades working their way up because they have had no options, now have more option than the college graduates stocking shelves for them. Why? Because many of the job postings are hiring off of experience.
Every year, I get about a 20-cent cost of living raise. I work with people still in high school. I have more education than many of my supervisors. I apply for jobs on my days off. I am not even that picky; I set the bar at GED for minimum education. I have been turned down twice for a sales position at a cell phone store, doing essentially the same thing I do now, except I would make commission as well.
I am now wondering what happened to all those people in 2007 that told me to GO TO SCHOOL and GET A DEGREE. Maybe I am taking their jobs, as a college graduate in a job that requires no degree. Maybe they graduated college, and have become my coworkers.