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American Waiters and Cashiers Are Over-Educated

Does a higher education mean a higher income?

This post was written by Katherine Mangu-Ward and was reprinted with permission from

More people are going to college than ever before, but those extra years of education aren't translating into the fancy-pants jobs that most people expect after snagging a sheepskin. Sixty percent of the increase in the number of college grads between 1992 and 2008 are doing low-skilled jobs that used to be done by people with high school diplomas or less. Ohio University economist Richard Vedder does the math:


In 1992 the BLS reports that total college graduate employment was 28.9 million, of whom 5.1 million were in occupations which the BLS classified as “noncollege level jobs” while in 2008 the BLS data indicate that total college graduate employment was 49.35 million, with 17.4 million in occupations classified as requiring less than a bachelor’s degree.

An example or two from specific occupations is useful. In 1992 119,000 waiters and waitresses were college degree holders. By 2008, this number had more than doubled to 318,000. While the total number of waiters and waitresses grew by about 1 million during this period, 20% of all new jobs in this occupation were filled by college graduates. Take cashiers as well. While 132,000 cashiers possessed college degrees in 1992, by 2008, 365,000 cashiers were college graduates. As with waiters and waitresses, 20% of new cashiers since 1992 are college graduates. (The sources for all of these data are Table 1 of the Summer 1994 Occupational Outlook Quarterly and the Employment Projection Program “Occupations” tables on the BLS Web site)


These numbers are big enough that we're not seeing a clsuter of arty comp lit major-novelist-waiters picking up some cash while living their dream in a garret. The stats show people who probably wouldn't have gone to college in another era, responded to incentives like cheap loans and went to college in the '90s or '00s, graduated at 22- or 23-years-old, and then got the same gigs they would have been qualified for at 18.
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