An important premise of “The American Dream” is that a college education guarantees a successful career.

However, that dream is slipping away — unless being a coffee shop barista is the job goal.  Ben Casselman of the Wall Street Journal takes a look at a recent job report for the latest crop of college graduates, which has some concerning numbers (hat-tip, a tweet from Iowahawkblog’s David Burge).

284,000: Number of American college graduates working in minimum-wage jobs in 2012.

The Wall Street Journal this week reported on the troubling trend of college graduates getting stuck in low-skilled jobs, a problem that new research suggests may endure even after the economy improves.

As the story noted, college graduates tend to earn more than their less-educated coworkers, even within the same field. But that isn’t true for everyone: According to the Labor Department, there were 284,000 graduates—those with at least a bachelor’s degree—working minimum-wage jobs in 2012, including 37,000 holders of advanced degrees. That’s down from a peak of 327,000 in 2010, but double the number in 2007 and up 70% from a decade earlier.

While the raw number of college grads stuck in minimum-wage jobs remains elevated, their share of such jobs is at more or less its 10-year average. About 8% of all minimum-wage workers held at least a bachelor’s degree in 2012, a figure that has bounced around over the past decade with no clear trend. Given that the share of the labor force with a college degree has been rising steadily over the same period, the lack of a parallel trend among minimum-wage workers suggests that grads aren’t generally ending up at the absolute bottom of the earnings ladder.

One alternative young Americans could consider is certification programs, which give skills-oriented training without the potential for massive student loan debt. There are many technical programs, as well as Coffee School for those who want to be a barista without a pricey degree.


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