Students realize tough economy awaits them premium is on skills

The Outlook

January 21, 1996|By Mark Guidera

TALK ABOUT a gloomy outlook on the future. A new survey by Lake Forest, Ill.-based Educational Communications Inc. of some of the nation's top high school students found that 50 percent are pessimistic about their chances for landing good jobs after college. Even more of those surveyed -- 58 percent -- think they will have a tougher time than their parents did affording a good home; 53 percent said they'll have a harder time affording a college education.

Is the gloom well founded? If so, what is it about today's economy that makes it so? What can high school students do to best position themselves?

David Stevens

Director, Jacob France Center for Business and Economic Studies, University of Baltimore

The students' anxiety, I think, is well founded. It's very unclear to all of us who study the labor market what the U.S. economy holds for the future.

The notion of going to work for one company and having any continuity with that company is very fragile today. It's clear there is no longer a reciprocity and commitment between corporations and workers.

The major change I've seen in students recently is that more and more seniors aren't going to job fairs in the fall and expecting a job offer from a company by this time of the year. They aren't necessarily thinking about what they'll do after their senior year. That may be an expression of students' anxiety about choosing a career and job prospects.

Kids who really want to give themselves an edge in the job market of tomorrow need to remember one word: internships. My advice is to go about it any way you can, whether it's accepting something in a fast food restaurant arranged by your school or just walking into a company in a field you think you might want to have a career and pitching yourself.

Paul Krouse

President, Educational Communications Inc.

For the last several years we've been seeing a growing skepticism among the students responding to the survey. Part of it is that they are bombarded by all the media stories about corporate layoffs, downsizing, jobs disappearing. That maybe has given them a skewed view of reality. But also these students are observing the experience of older brothers and sisters who are taking five to six years to finish college because of the expense and are having a tough time landing jobs that have any security.

In general the kids seem to have confidence in themselves personally, but for their generation as a whole they see the outlook as pretty gloomy for achieving the American Dream. It's interesting,then, that No. 1 thing most of the kids want in the future is a good family life. Not money. Not career or security. This seems to say they won't rely on jobs and careers to bring them happiness.

Gary Burtless

Senior fellow,

Brookings Institution

These kids' fears are well founded at least for the early years as they enter the work force. They will enter at lower wages than generations did before them.

The median wage for a male aged 20 to 24 was (in today dollars) $21,877 in 1973. By 1993, the median wage for the same group had dropped 31.4 percent to $15,000. For women there's been an 11.6 percent decline in wages for the same age group.

That's the kind of labor market these kids can expect to enter.

What's happened is that there's been placed a premium on one's skill levels. The more skills you have -- the post-college degree, the certified training and years of work experience -- the better are your wages. The other side of this trend, though, is that for every skill level you don't have, there's a penalty. You do worse in wages.

In some respects the pessimism is a bit misplaced. These kids are among the elite of their generation, and every government statistic we have now shows that the elite will fare much better than their generation as a whole and will earn more than their parents did at the same ages.

The troubling thing is that while there has always been a wage gap between the elite and those at the other end of the spectrum, that gap is going to be even wider for this generation.

Marvin Kosters

Director of economic policy studies, American

Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

There is a lot of data that shows the economy is going to continue to grow and so are the number of jobs. Even today, with so much news of downsizing, the statistics show we've had real job growth.

To me there's no question these students will be able to earn more than their parents and certainly more than their grandparents. The difference is that the jobs being created are ones that will require a high level of skills.

I think if these kids want to succeed they should keep in mind three things:

First, study hard. They'll have to study more in school than we did. Second, work hard and invest. Saving for the future is the best way to afford a good quality of life.

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