The Worst City for Recent Graduates to Find a Job

The labor market radically changed over the past year. While demand for workers has surged, the number of available workers has fallen. Experts have sought reasons for this change. Among those given most often are aging Americans who left jobs early during the COVID-19 pandemic, people who do not want to return to low-paying jobs and some who can stay out of work temporarily because of pandemic-driven government income assistance.

People have left jobs in record numbers. What the government calls “quits” have risen in number. The trend has been labeled the “Great Resignation.” If anything, this movement has accelerated.

Not every American has been lucky enough to have options for their future employment. Some challenges increase due to the places recent college graduates plan to work.

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau, 24/7 Wall St. created an index of six key measures to identify the worst city for recent college graduates to find a job. Index measures are related to job growth, financial security, earnings and employment opportunities for the young and the college-educated.

The disadvantages that recent graduates at the beginning of their career face in many of the metropolitan areas on this list vary. One of the most common disadvantages is a lack of employment opportunities in fields that typically require a college degree, such as information, finance and insurance, professional, scientific and technical services. With limited job opportunities in these fields, wages are often lower overall in these areas for workers with a college degree.

With such unfavorable conditions for those with a college degree, it is perhaps not surprising that the metro areas we reviewed have relatively low educational attainment rates. In most of these metro areas, the share of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher is below the 32.1% share nationwide.

The worst city for college graduates to find a job is El Centro, California. Here are the details:

  • Fields that typically require a four-year degree: 7.1% of all jobs (bottom 10% of U.S. metro areas)
  • Average monthly wage, 22 to 24 year olds: $1,828 (bottom 25%)
  • October 2021 unemployment: 16.6% (bottom 10%)
  • Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher: 15.2% (bottom 10%)

El Centro ranks as the worst metro area in the country for recent college graduates to find a job, largely due to its weak job market. Unemployment in El Centro was 16.6% in October 2021, the highest of any U.S. metro area and more than triple the national jobless rate of 4.6%.

College-educated adults in El Centro also are more likely to struggle financially than college-educated workers in much of the rest of the country. The typical college-educated worker in the metro area earns about $43,476 annually and 13.7% of college-educated residents live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, the median earnings among college graduates nationwide is about $55,000 and only 9.6% of college graduates nationwide live below the poverty line.

In determining the worst city for recent graduates to find a job, only metropolitan areas where 35% or less of the population are enrolled in college or graduate school were considered in our analysis.

The first measure, average monthly earnings for 22 to 24 year olds in the first quarter of 2021, came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Quarterly Workforce Indicators (QWI) extraction tool and was included in the index at full weight.

The second measure, the percentage change in employment of 22 to 24 year olds from the first quarter of 2020 to the same quarter in 2021, was calculated using data from the QWI and was included in the index at full weight.

The third measure included data on the percentage of 22 to 24 year olds employed in information, finance and insurance, professional, scientific, technical and educational services (professions that typically require a college education). It was calculated using data from the QWI and was included in the index at full weight.

The fourth measure, seasonally adjusted data on the unemployment rate as of October 2021, came from the BLS Local Area Unemployment Statistics program and was included in the index at full weight.

The fifth measure, the ratio of median earnings for adults 25 years and over with a bachelor’s degree to the median earnings for adults 25 years and over of all education levels, was calculated using five-year data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) and was included in the index at full weight.

The sixth measure, the percentage of adults 25 years and over with a bachelor’s degree or higher living at or below the poverty line, came from the 2019 ACS and was included in the index at full weight.

Click here to see all the worst cities for recent graduates to find a job.


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