Low-Skill Jobs with the Highest Concentration of College Graduates

If you are aiming to avoid a nine-to-five at the check-out register, you might want to take a good look at finance, health sciences, and engineering degrees.

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The Center for College Affordability and Productivity released a study last week confirming what many recent college graduates have known for a long time: a large proportion of grads are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree. What we didn’t know was the situation may have been worse than we realized.

According to the study, nearly half of college graduates are working jobs that require less than a four-year degree.So what low-skill job are you likely to find should you call the wrong side of the coin?

Retail Sales/Clerk. Either handling cash became more complicated over the last forty years, or a large portion of the retail labor force is over-educated. Nearly 25 percent of shelf stockers, cash register jockeys, and clothing folders hold a four-year degree. (In 1970, the concentration was more like 5 percent.)

Firefighters. Your average fireman is not only a hero but also a scholar. A full 17.5 percent of firefighters report having a bachelor's degree. That’s a dramatic increase from the 2 percent reported 40 years ago.

Taxi Drivers. This might not have been what you had in mind when you considered a job that required a lot of time on the road. When you hail a cab on the street, there’s a 15 percent chance your driver holds a four-year degree. Back in 1970, only 1 percent of drivers had this level of education.

Bank Tellers. Maybe there is something to the complexity of handling cash after all? Slightly less than 15 percent of bank tellers are college graduates. Once upon a time, less than 3 percent of graduates held this type of position at the bank.

Why are So Many Graduates Stuck in Low-Skill Jobs? Low-skilled laborers didn’t used to be so well-educated. Forty years ago, these occupations didn’t have even a quarter of the educational attainment they do today. This shift towards greater levels of education is a direct result of skill polarization in the workforce.

Imagine there are three levels of skill needed for a job. You have low-skill jobs that require simple manual tasks like stocking shelves. Then there are middle-skill jobs that require training and education, but are more routine and repetitive. Jobs that require a great deal of creativity and analytical effort would be considered high-skill jobs. Over the last decade, jobs in the United States have polarized towards low- and high-skill labor, while middle-skill labor has steadily declined.

The reason for this is twofold. The low cost of computer technology is one of these factors. Since most middle-skill jobs have a great deal of routine, rule-based activities, employers have turned to technology to replace human workers. This is especially true in manufacturing operations.

The rise of the global middle class is another factor. Since a greater share of the world’s population has a college education, American middle-skill laborers are now in direct competition with graduates from across the world who are willing to work for less pay. Naturally, jobs have left for newer boards—leaving a glut of graduates looking for a small amount of potential jobs.

At this point, it’s hard to say if middle-skill jobs with ever return. What is notable is that high-skilled jobs have been increasing even as middle-skill jobs decrease. So if you are aiming to avoid a nine-to-five at the check-out register, you might want to take a good look at finance, health sciences, and engineering degrees.

JP is a writer for the money blog 20's Finances. He is an MBA and the financial officer for a nonprofit organization.