Of course, there’s been a huge increase in graduate numbers with the percentage of the population classed as graduates rising steadily from 17% in 1992 to 22% by 2001 and to 38% in 2013 – the education attainment levels of the population has increased as a whole with 61% reporting to ONS that they were educated to at least level 3 (A-level) standard and 81% to level 2 (GCSE). But with levels of education increasing at a much faster rate than the technical requirements of the workplace, graduate underemployment will become arguably more significant than graduate unemployment. Most young people leaving university will get jobs. The ONS figures showing unemployment for ‘recent graduates’ at 9% compared with 14% for 21-30 year olds without degrees. Graduates were also twice as likely to be in work compared to those with no qualifications.
As a result, if only because they ‘bump-down’ others into even less paid jobs, graduates continue to earn more. The ONS data also showed that graduates’ annual income increased at a fast pace as they became older; before levelling out around the age of 38 at an average of £35,000. In contrast, gross annual earnings for those educated to A- level standard increased until the age of 34 when it levelled out at around £22,000, while incomes for those with GCSE level qualifications levelled out at around the age of 32 at an average of £19,000.
But if average salaries are high, there are also clear differences between what those from Russell universities may earn (£18.60 per hour) compared to others (£14.97). You also need to move south, to look for the higher earnings; with 60% of people living in inner London having degrees compared to 29% in the North East. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 25% of employed graduates were living in London three years after graduating (www.hesa.ac.uk/content/view/2936/393/)
The same week, the ONS published another Statistical Bulletin on the more than a million 16-24 year olds (nearly 15% of the total and 17.6% of all 18-24 year olds) Not in Education Employment or Training, ie ‘NEET’ (www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_337420.pdf).
Nearly half of this total have given up looking for work and are classed as ‘economically inactive’ – many more women than men and more in the North and regions plus rural areas than in London and the South East, although many minority ethnic youth are disproportionately NEET in all areas.
Rob MacDonald, Professor at Teesside University, told a Conference on youth and poverty at Kingston University last Friday that his research in Middlesbrough and in Glasgow showed there is not a so-called ‘underclass’ of permanently unemployed generations living in a ‘culture of worklessness’ at the bottom of society (http://wbg.org.uk/pdfs/worklessness-families-employment-full.pdf). Unlike the picture commonly presented in the media, there is a constant ‘churning’ of people – young and old – into and out of often part-time, low-paid, insecure jobs.
Even if NEET numbers are marginally down, this new unrespectable ‘rough’ of particularly precarious workers are presented by all the main political parties to the ‘hard working people’ in the supposedly respectable and secure middle of society as by implication not hard working. They are thus seen both as ‘undeserving poor’ but also a ‘trap’ into those in the middle might fall, causing them to scramble ever more desperately up the down-escalator of inflating qualifications.
This only adds to the general hysteria about education and training, which the government presents as the only means to restart upward social mobility and economic recovery. This is not going to happen however in a moribund economy with a class structure going ‘pear-shaped’ (https://radicaled.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/the-hour-glass-economy/) where the only absolute social mobility is downwards.