The Wall Street Journal had more bad news for college-educated millennials Tuesday, reporting that even an improving economy could leave them behind or push them out of the market.
The Journal cites a National Bureau of Economic Research paper released Monday that suggests American businesses need fewer people to develop and install the high-tech systems that drive an information economy.
The paper's lead author Paul Beaudry, an economist at the University of British Columbia, told the newspaper, "Once the robots are in place, you still need some people, but you need a lot less than when you were putting in the robots."
The report is disturbing news to college-educated millennials and the coming class of 2013. A Center for College Affordability and Productivity report released in January found that 48 percent of recent graduates work jobs that don't require their college diplomas. Worse, 38 percent of recent graduates work jobs that don't require high school diplomas.
The barista with a masters degree in theater is considered the poster boy for a generation stuck in first gear as it battles against the steep grade of a weak economy. Beaudry's research suggests, however, that even U.S. workers with degrees in technological fields have reason to worry: The supply of managers, technical workers and professionals has continued to grow since 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst, and demand for these workers has shrunk, according to the paper, titled "The Great Reversal in the Demand for Skill and Cognitive Tasks." Further, high-skilled laborers push others down the economic ladder, pushing the lowest-skilled out of the market entirely.
Americans have long considered a college education protection against unemployment and the key to economic mobility. In January, Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee said as much in response to a challenge from President Barack Obama that asked university presidents to increase the number of graduates their institutions produce.
Nevertheless, Beaudry's report is the latest to suggest that the American higher education sector has produced graduates at a rate that outpaces their market demand and leaves a record number of Americans with a record level of student debt.