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College Graduates Unemployment Rate in the US

by Darko Jacimovic

College graduates unemployment rate is one of those topics that should not be avoided. Students across the US are willing to get into tremendous debt to obtain an education, only to be faced with no job opportunities once they’ve graduated.

For this reason, and more, readers should pay attention to the statistics listed below. They explain how saturated some professions are, which majors would, potentially, be a waste of time and money, and which ones offer a straightforward pathway to a job.

10 Key College Graduates Unemployment Rate Facts and Statistics

  • The median pay for those with a bachelor’s degree is 74.5% higher than for those with just a high school degree.
  • Around 53% of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.
  • The unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders in the US is 2.1%.
  • Mass Media majors have an unemployment rate of 7.8%.
  • General Education majors have an unemployment rate of just 1%.
  • The unemployment rate for associate’s degree holders in the US is 3.5%.
  • The unemployment rate for high school degree holders in the US is 4.3%.
  • 43% of college graduates are underemployed in their first job.
  • In total, 34% of college graduates are underemployed.
  • 73.2% of Criminal Justice majors are underemployed.

College Grad Statistics

1. 1,920,718 Americans earned their bachelor’s degree in 2015-16.


During the 2015-16 academic year, the most recent year for which full data is available, nearly 2 million Americans graduated with a bachelor’s degree and entered the labor force with optimism. 

Was that optimism justified? 

That’s what we’re here to find out with the help of our college graduates employment statistics.

2. 1,975,000 bachelor’s degrees are expected to be awarded in 2019-20.

(National Center for Education Statistics)

A similar number of college graduates is expected to join the US workforce in 2020. It is also projected that 989,000 associate’s degree holders will do the same, accompanied by 820,000 master’s and 184,000 doctor’s degree holders.

3. The share of the college-educated American workforce has increased by over 7%.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

College graduates job statistics show that the American labor force has been getting more college-educated individuals during the last 3 decades. Between 1992 and 2016, the number of workers with a bachelor’s degree increased by 7%. The increase in the number of workers with advanced degrees (master’s, professional, and doctoral degrees) was also noticeable, rising by 5% during the same period.

4. Workers with some college education or an associate’s degree make up the largest share of the civilian labor force.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Ever since 2012, the largest part of the US civilian labor force has been comprised of workers who have an associate’s degree or were at least enrolled in a college. While the percentage of unemployed college graduates has gone down, the percentage of the members of the labor force with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree has been increasing steadily throughout the 2010s, exceeding 25%.

5. Roughly 53% of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed.

(University of Washington)

The average college graduate needs up to half a year to find their first employment. Even with a perfect resume, references, and an established job-seeking strategy, they are unlikely to find work in their field or even one that requires a college degree. 

Here’s why:

Statistics on College Graduates Getting Jobs

college graduates unemployment rate - Graduation

6. The unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders in the US is 2.1%.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

For those over the age of 25 who’ve earned a bachelor’s degree, the unemployment rate stays far below the national average of 3.7% (as of July 2019). However, statistics about community college graduates indicate that they can’t expect the same.

7. The unemployment rate for associate degree holders in the US is 3.5%.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

After graduating with an associate’s degree, recent grads are faced with an unemployment rate that is roughly on par with the national average. The unemployment rate for college graduates 2019 data offers some consolation. The good news is they shouldn’t question their decision to attend college, as those who only have a high school diploma have an even tougher time finding work.

8. Median earnings for recent graduates are lower today than they were in 1990.

(Harvard Business Review

Adjusted for inflation, recent college graduates are not earning more than their predecessors did in 1990 or 2000. In fact, they might be earning a bit less. In 1990, the median pay for recent graduates was $44,926. In 2000, the median dropped to $43,749. College graduate employment rate figures list that, today, the median yearly pay for those aged 22 to 27 who have a bachelor’s degree sits at $44,000.

9. Recent college graduates are 5.7 times more likely than workers overall to be Advertising and Promotion Managers.

(Harvard Business Review)

Taking the share of recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree aged 22 to 27 who work in the position and dividing the figure by the overall number of workers in it, we can determine that recent grads are 5.7 times more likely to be Advertising and Promotion managers. They are also 5.5 times more likely to be Actuaries or, in plain English, business risk analysts.

10. Interest in occupations related to Arts and Entertainment is increasing.


There’s no issue with the college graduates unemployment rate in some professions:

Between 2014 and 2018, interest in Arts and Entertainment-related jobs among recent graduates spiked. For this population, the list of top 10 occupations by interest now looks like this:

  • Graphic Designer
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Film and Video Editor
  • Psychiatric Technician
  • Marriage and Family Therapist
  • Art, Drama, and Music Teacher
  • Writer
  • Counselor for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorders
  • Photographer
  • Social Worker

11. Interest in occupations related to Business and Finance is dropping.


The college graduates unemployment rate has increased in some professions due to a loss of interest in others.

Even though they pay better, jobs related to Business and Finance are not making any top lists these days. What’s more, the interest in jobs that come with a high risk of injury is also dropping. Here is the list of the top 10 occupations that recent graduates are losing interest in:

  • Radiation Therapist
  • Statistician
  • Statistical Assistant
  • Speech Therapist
  • Economist
  • Actuary
  • Sales Person
  • Nutritionist and Dietitian
  • Forester
  • Nuclear Engineer

College Graduate Underemployment Rate

college graduates unemployment rate - Graduates

12. 43% of college graduates are underemployed in their first job.

(The Wall Street Journal)

Underemployment is the number that represents the percentage of graduates working in positions that do not require a college degree. If at least half of people working in a specific job have a bachelor’s degree, the position is classified as a college job.

Overall, close to half of those who graduate from college with a bachelor’s degree can expect their first job to not require it, college graduates job statistics show.

13. 34% of college graduates were underemployed in June 2019.

(Federal Reserve Bank of New York)

When talking about college graduates, everyone between the ages of 22 and 65 with a bachelor’s (or higher) degree is considered. As of June 2019, over a third of them were in positions they were overqualified for.

14. 41% of recent graduates were underemployed in June 2019.

(Federal Reserve Bank of New York)

The situation is even more alarming for recent graduates (those between the ages of 22 and 27 with a bachelor’s or higher degree). The lowest underemployment rate they’ve faced in the last few decades was in May 2001, when it was 37.6%.

15. 73.2% of Criminal Justice majors are underemployed.

(statista, CriminalJustice DegreeHub)

Some degrees face severe underemployment rates. Even though it’s not one of the majors with the highest college graduate unemployment rate, getting a bachelor’s in Criminal Justice is almost certainly going to lead to underemployment, as just over a quarter of those who graduate with this degree end up working in positions that require it. The majority of Criminal Justice majors are employed as police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

16. 49.7% of Psychology majors are underemployed.

(statista, Psychology Today)

Even though most Psychology majors dream about becoming counselors or therapists and making a positive impact on peoples’ lives, about half of them will not get that chance. Most of them are employed as HR representatives and Psychiatric Technicians.

17. 11.5% of Nursing majors are underemployed.


For those who opted to go to Nursing school, the situation is on the opposite end of the spectrum. A little over 10% of those with a degree in this field are underemployed. 

And in case you’re interested in unemployment rates for specific majors, you’ll find the next section particularly interesting.

Unemployment Rate by College Major

college graduates unemployment rate - Joy

18. The unemployment rate for Mass Media majors is 7.8%.


Graduating with a degree in Mass Media will get you to face an unemployment rate almost four times that of college-educated adults. Those who manage to find a job in this highly competitive field can expect their starting salary to be around $35,000.

19. The unemployment rate for Anthropology majors is 6.6%.


Sorting the unemployment rate by degree, we can see that earning a BA or BS degree in Anthropology also puts graduates in a difficult position when it comes to finding work. Their unemployment rate is 4.5% higher than the college graduate average. What’s more, it’s 2.9% above the overall national average. Starting salaries in this field are estimated at $33,000.

20. Liberal Arts and Humanities majors unemployment rate is 5.8%.

(National Center for Education Statistics)

According to a 2017 data on national education statistics, Liberal Arts and Humanities majors are among the most unlikely degree-holders to find work, college grad unemployment data from 2017 shows. In fact, 5.8% of recent graduates (25 to 29 years of age) are unemployed. While starting salary data is not available, the median annual pay for recent Liberal Arts and Humanities graduates is $39,000.

21. The unemployment rate for Economics majors is 4.1%.

(National Center for Education Statistics)

Economics used to be regarded as a field with a secure job line. However, the unemployment rate by college major 2019 numbers indicate that this has changed dramatically since the 1990s. Nowadays, Economics graduates face a difficult job search. Those who manage to find a job can expect to do well, though, as the median salary data shows some impressive figures. People with a bachelor’s in Economics (aged 25 to 29) have a median salary of $65,000. Recent Engineering majors (Electrical, Mechanical, and Computer) are the only ones with higher median pay.

22. The unemployment rate for General Medical and Health Services majors is 1.8%.

(National Center for Education Statistics)

There are some professions on the other end of the unemployment rate for college graduates scale: 

Pursuing education in General Medical and Health Services doesn’t only represent an act of selflessness and desire to help. It is also a smart move when it comes to future employment. Less than 2% of those with a bachelor’s in this field are unemployed. The median pay for recent graduates is not too shabby either, sitting at $50,200, college graduate stats on salaries show.

23. General Education majors unemployment rate is 1%.

(National Center for Education Statistics)

General Education graduates were facing the lowest unemployment rate in the US back in 2017. As elementary and high school teachers are always needed, the extremely low unemployment rate for this major is likely to remain at 1% for the foreseeable future. Recent General Education graduates can expect to earn about $40,300.

Unemployment Rate for College Graduates vs. High School Graduates

college graduates unemployment rate - Unhappy student

24. The proportion of the US workforce with a high school diploma has decreased by 10%.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

As expected with the increase in the overall education in the US, the percentage of workers with no college experience has dropped significantly. The rate of those who never graduated from high school has also gone down. Between 1992 and 2016, it dropped by 5%.

25. The share of those with no college experience in the US labor force was 35% in 1992.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The percentage of US workers with no college experience has gone down dramatically since the early 90s. Nowadays, it is around 25%, and it is expected to keep dropping. The percentage of workers with some college experience or an associate degree has been on an incline; it went from around 25% in 1992 to close to 30% in 2016.

26. Unemployment rate for high school graduates in the US is 4.3%.

(Bureau of Labor Statistics)

When debating whether going to college is worth the time, money, and effort, this is one of the key statistics you should consider. Taking into account the unemployment rate for college graduates 2018 and 2019 data, college graduates – even those with a 2-year degree – have  a much higher chance of finding work. 

27. 62% of high school degree graduates work in jobs susceptible to automation.


Automation is a prospect that could negatively impact the employment rate on a scale we can’t even begin to understand. The unemployment rate for college graduates and high school graduates will also skyrocket as businesses around the world introduce automation into their daily dealings.

62% of US workers with a high school degree work in routine occupations. These occupations are expected to be the first ones affected by automation as it becomes more widespread. Those with no high school degrees are, surprisingly, slightly less affected by the prospect of automation, as 59% of them work in routine occupations. 

28. Half of those with bachelor’s degrees are potentially affected by automation.


Those with college degrees should be even less worried about automation. 50% of associate’s degree holders are in these occupations, together with 28% of workers with bachelor’s and 11% of workers with graduate degrees.

29. The median pay for college graduates is 74.5% higher than for those with just a high school degree.


When all bachelor’s degree holders are taken into account, college graduates statistics show a median yearly salary of $52,019. For high school graduates, median pay sits at $29,815. 

30. The US government invested $100 million in apprenticeships this year.

(US Department of Labor, Investopedia)

On-the-job training is one of the best ways to improve the job status for those without a college degree. Back in 2016, more than $175 million was invested in high-tech apprenticeships. Improving their skillset is one of the only ways for high school graduates to reduce the pay gap between them and the college-educated workers.


college graduates unemployment rate - Happy graduates

1. What percent of college graduates are unemployed?

The unemployment rate of college graduates in the US heavily depends on the type of degree they’ve obtained. For those with a bachelor’s degree, the percentage of the unemployed sits at 3.1%. The situation is a bit different for graduates with an associate’s degree; their unemployment rate is 3.5%, which is still below the US average.

2. What percentage of college students get a job after they graduate?

Generally speaking, around 53% of recent college graduates are unable to find a job in their field of studies after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. They are either completely unable to find employment or they need to settle for a position that doesn’t even require a college degree.

3. How many college graduates are unemployed or underemployed?

Around half of college graduates are underemployed, so they work in positions that don’t require a degree. 3.1% are unemployed.

4. What percent of college graduates get jobs in their field in 2019?

47% of college graduates managed to find employment that meets their qualifications.

5. Are there more job opportunities for college graduates?

You could argue that employment opportunities are always available for those willing to work. However, the statistics listed above show otherwise. In case they can’t find work the traditional way, recent college graduates should look into websites such as indeed, TopResume, CollegeGrad, etc. If that doesn’t work out, freelancing is always a viable option.

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