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Your depressing graphs for the day

October 27, 2011

Yesterday I read this article on Mother Jones about the earnings of recent US college graduates over the past decade. It was depressing, to say the least. As someone who started college in 2001, graduated in 2005, got a reasonably well-paying job but decided to pursue more education (and a different career) and thus went back to college in 2007, I feel like I’ve personally experienced most of these developments. Just after I started college, things got pretty bad for a while, and I remember being very grateful I wasn’t out on the job market yet. I graduated just as the economy was booming again (The Netherlands always seems to be a year or so behind the US in such developments) and though I didn’t find my job that easily, I was employed within several months after graduating, even with a “niche” degree like a BA in Business Administration in Tourism Management. While I worked at that job, as an office manager for a management recruitment organisation, things were good. Business was good overall, more employees were hired, current employees got raises. So I did not feel at all troubled about my decision to go back to school. I’d travelled a bit, saved up some money, and I felt good to go. Then, of course, everything came crashing down. As I was now without structural financial help from my parents, I did struggle a bit. It was hard, especially over the past year or so, to get any sort of steady income going, even with my (by now) two undergraduate degrees. Too many people with similar profiles were applying to the same jobs, and many of the other jobs I applied for considered me overqualified. With fewer jobs and the market flooded with educated young folks, getting a solid starting salary going (which anyone can tell you is incredibly important, because it’s a starting point for future jobs) proved dicey. There was a definite “you’ll take what you’re offered and don’t you dare complain” attitude out there, which is problematic in a variety of ways, but especially when you consider the ever-increasing amounts of debt shouldered by students, particularly in the US, but also evermore so in European countries.

Apart from the trip down memory lane, the articles on Mother Jones also told a different tale, though it’s difficult to tell at a single glance. So I made you a couple of helpful visual aids, to help you figure it out:

Fig. 1a

Fig. 1b

These graphs (I made two, because line graphs are fun, but sometimes bar graphs work better for me, visually) show the same data as the original charts in the Mother Jones article, but on the same scale.

Sometimes people try to tell me there’s no more gender pay gap, or if there is, future generations will surely even it out. From now until whenever this pay gap is actually fixed, I’ll be able to point them to these graphs. And then note that these have not even been adjusted for the even larger differences resulting from race, (dis)ability, and other factors.

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