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Why Are So Many College Graduates Driving Taxis?

Author: Peter R. Orszag, Adjunct Senior Fellow
June 25, 2013
Bloomberg.com

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It's a parent's nightmare: shelling out big money for college, then seeing the graduate unable to land a job that requires high-level skills. This situation may be growing more common, unfortunately, because the demand for cognitive skills associated with higher education, after rising sharply until 2000, has since been in decline.

So concludes new research by economists Paul Beaudry and David Green of the University of British Columbia and Benjamin Sand of York University in Toronto. This reversal in demand has caused high-skilled workers to accept lower-level jobs, pushing lower-skilled people even further down the occupational ladder or out of work altogether. If the researchers are right (which is not yet clear), the consequences are huge and troubling -- and not just for college grads and their parents.

Let's start with some basic facts. There have always been some graduates who wind up in jobs that don't require a college degree. But the share seems to be growing. In 1970, only 1 in 100 taxi drivers and chauffeurs in the U.S. had a college degree, according to an analysis of labor statistics by Ohio University's Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart and Jonathan Robe. Today, 15 of 100 do.

It's hard to believe this is because the skill required to drive a taxi has risen substantially since 1970. If anything, GPS technology may have had the opposite effect. (Acquiring "the knowledge" of London streets, as taxi drivers there are required to do, is cognitively challenging, but it may no longer be necessary.)

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