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Few Recent Graduates Were Actually Forced to Work as Baristas, Study Finds

At one point during the Great Recession, half of recent college graduates were underemployed. But contrary to popular perception, few occupied low-skill service positions, like that of the ubiquitous barista. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of recent graduates work in such jobs, according to a paper released this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“While there is some truth behind the popular image of the college-educated barista,” the report reads, “this picture is not an accurate portrayal of the typical underemployed recent college graduate.”

Recent graduates were much more likely to work in higher-paying jobs that do not require a degree but earn more in those positions than co-workers without one. The report also cites evidence to suggest that entering a poor job market may have long-term effects on an individual’s earning power, though the effects “differ greatly by college major and ability.”

The report, written by Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz, covers 2009 to 2013 and defines a recent graduate as anyone 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree.

Other notable findings:

  • Degree-holders are half as likely as their peers to work as physical laborers or in low-skill service positions.
  • Students who double majored or had graduate degrees are less likely to work in low-skill service jobs.
  • Men are more likely to be underemployed than women, but are also better paid.
  • Women are more likely than men to move on from underemployment by their late 20s.
  • Graduates who held liberal-arts or other general degrees are up to three times as likely to be underemployed as graduates with more field-specific degrees.
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