Half of America’s Recent College Graduates Are Working Minimum Wage Retail and Food Industry Jobs

By: Beth Moreton | Published: Mar 29, 2024

Many people are told that to get a well-paying job, they need to go to college.

However, many recent college graduates are discovering college doesn’t guarantee you a college-level job. In fact, many college graduates are working minimum wage retail and food industry jobs, five years after graduating.

Over Half of Graduates Are Working Minimum-Wage Jobs

A recent report released by The Burning Glass Institute and Strada Education Foundation looked into the jobs that college graduates go into.

Two waitresses working in a restaurant. They are wearing facemasks, black t-shirts, and green and white striped aprons.

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The report found that around 52% of college graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree are working minimum wage jobs within a year of graduating that don’t require a college degree.


College Graduates working Minimum Wage Jobs Increases After Five Years

The report also found that the number of college graduates working minimum wage jobs is at 88% five years after they have graduated.

A retail worker working in a supermarket doing a stock check of items down one of the aisles.

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Business Insider reports that these jobs include working in an office, retail, and hospitality.

College Graduates Still Earn More than High School Graduates

They might be working in jobs that don’t require a college degree, but college graduates are still earning more than high school graduates.

A college graduate in a black and yellow graduation gown carrying a cap whilst walking up some stairs.

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The report found that college graduates in minimum wage jobs are likely to earn around 25% more than high school graduates working the same job.

What You Study Matters

One of the main takeaways from the report was that the likelihood of a college graduate going into a minimum-wage job or a college-level job depended on what they studied.

A healthcare worker wearing a surgical hat and facemask.

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The courses that graduates are most likely to get jobs in their field are health courses, whereas the courses where graduates are more likely to go into a minimum wage job include business management and public safety.

Graduates Find It Difficult to Get Out of Minimum Wage Jobs

Most people might say a job is a job and that someone will get the job or career they want to do eventually, but that might not be the case.

A woman working behind a bar cooking street food. There are various signs indicating the price of the food.

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CBS News has said that college graduates who enter into a minimum wage job are more likely to end up stuck in those jobs for the rest of their careers.


Many Jobs No Longer Require a College Degree

For many years, people have been told that to get a decent job, they need to get a college degree.

A person walking down the street holding a brown leather briefcase.

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However, CBS News is now reporting that many jobs are dropping the requirement for a college degree, as they are now preferring skills over knowledge.


25% of College Graduates Are Earning Less Than High School Graduates

College graduates might be able to earn more than high school graduates when in minimum-wage jobs, but that doesn’t extend to the overall job market.

Four college graduates. They are all wearing black graduate gowns and are throwing their caps in the air.

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CBS News has reported that ten years after graduating college, 25% of college graduates are earning less than $32,000, which is less than what high school graduates are earning.


Wages Can Depend on the College Graduates Attended

The median wage for college graduates, in some cases, can depend on the college they went to.

Baruch College library in New York City. Two US flags are sticking out from the building.

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For example, those who graduated from Baruch College of the City University of New York earn an average of $71,000 per year.


Most Americans Believe College Degrees Aren’t Worth It

A recent poll by the Wall Street Journal discovered that most Americans believe that college degrees are no longer worth the cost.

Two people sat in a college lecture hall looking through their notes.

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56% of Americans no longer believe that college degrees are worth the cost, which is up by 16% from around a decade ago.


Graduation Rates Are Low

With college graduates entering minimum wage jobs and the belief that college degrees aren’t worth it on the rise, graduation rates are relatively low.

Some college graduates wearing a gap and gown going to greet their friends and families.

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The National Center for Education Statistics found that just 64% of people were graduating from 6-year college courses in 2020, meaning that 36% have no college degree but are still having to pay off their college fees.


Internships Increase the Likelihood of Getting a College-Level Job

One thing that college students and graduates can do to increase their likelihood of getting a college-level job is to do an internship.

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Graduates who did an internship before graduation had a 48.5% lower chance of working a minimum-wage job after graduation. However, only 29% of college graduates can secure a paid internship, meaning that something has to change to enable college graduates to get a job that pays above minimum wage.