“These findings contradict the popular narrative that underemployment and drift are built into the early phases of career discovery–like some sort of rite of passage for graduates,” said Weise. “We as educators, parents, and students can’t just assume a trajectory of success from the moment of graduation. The future of work is evolving. A key takeaway here is intentionality. Underemployment isn’t inevitable, but avoiding it and achieving positive outcomes will require more deliberate planning by both colleges and students.”

It’s a well-known stereotype. Your barista has a bachelor’s degree. The rental-car clerk graduated with honors. That guy tending bar successfully defended his thesis. Holding a menial or low-skilled first job right out of college, one that makes little use of a bachelor’s degree, seems practically a rite of passage for recent graduates. For many, this job is little more than a placeholder paycheck that—supplemented, perhaps,by Mom and Dad—covers the bills for a year or two before young adults figure out a direction and settle into a long-term career.

Underemployment at the start of a career can leave new graduates disadvantaged

Stories of underemployed college graduates are nothing new. Many parents and their children regard lackluster jobs right after graduation as a detour that will be corrected in a few months—or in the worst case—in a few years. But the long-running narrative is more prominent now in an evolving economy, where entire occupations are expanding and contracting at an alarming speed and rising college tuition prices have resulted in record levels of student debt among recent graduates.

Employment status at the first job can leave a lasting effect. Those starting out underemployed are more likely to stay that way, even after 10 or more years of working.

New evidence uncovered in our study on underemployment, however, suggests that young adults,parents, and college officials shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the job choices new graduates make out of college. Many academics often say they prepare students for their fifth job, not their first. Well, the first job matters more than we previously suspected for getting that fifth job. We found that early-career underemployment is not a mere diversion but rather a potential derailment with lingering instability that can lead to problems down the road. The choice of a first job can reverberate years into the future. This is especially true for women, as well as those in fields outside most STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.

End of Report Excerpt