Columnists Opinion

Good news for the class of 2017

The college class of 2017 is in a better employment position than any college class in a decade.

With the unemployment rate at 4.4 percent lower than we’ve seen it since 2007, and with wages ticking up (although too slowly), today’s college graduates are far better off than their colleagues who graduated in 2008, when the Great Recession caused employers to rescind job offers that had already been made in writing.

Now, the human resource management company Korn, Ferry, Hay, says that the average graduate will earn $49,785, up three percent from last year. Accounting for inflation, 2017 grads will earn 14 percent more than graduates 10 years ago.

The biggest winners are those in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas. Software developers and engineers earn more than $63,000 a year, while actuaries, science researchers and environmental professionals earn at least $58,000.

In contrast, those who work in call centers as claims examiners or customer service reps have earnings at the bottom of the distribution. In any case, most of those who graduate this month have jobs already lined up.

Of course, African-American college graduates will have a more difficult time than their white counterparts, both because African-Americans experience higher unemployment rates and because African-American students are less likely to concentrate in the STEM areas than their counterparts. It will be interesting, however, to see how those African-American graduates, especially HBCU graduates, fare in this labor market.

Universities like Morgan State and Howard, and colleges like Spelman and Hampton, have high concentrations of STEM graduates, but unfortunately too many companies don’t even bother to recruit at those colleges.

If companies want to do more than diversity lip services, they need to change their regular recruiting patterns. That’s why the Howard University/Google partnership is so exciting, and why the partnership between Apple Computers and the Thurgood Marshall Fund makes so much sense.

While a welcoming job market is a foundation for career success, my recent interview with Julie Silard Kantor, the founder of Twomentor, suggest that good job market news isn’t enough. Kantor’s company helps corporations develop and foster a mentoring culture so that experienced employees can help new workers learn the ropes and learn the corporate culture.

Much of corporate culture is unwritten, but even new employees are penalized when they don’t appear “in sync” with prevailing culture. Too often this works against African-American employees when “collegiality” translates into promotions. Mentors can often smooth the way for those who aspire to move up in the workplace.

While there is good news for new college graduates, the current climate of virulent racism suggests that there are pitfalls, as well. A recent study in Fairfax County, Virginia, reported rampant discrimination against black teachers.

Black applicants were less likely to be hired than white applicants, even though they had more advanced degrees and classroom experience. When hired, black teachers were more likely to be sent to schools with high levels of poverty and large populations of minority students.

Of course, Fairfax County Public Schools say this study is based on 2012 data and they have changed since then. But 2012 wasn’t that long ago, and institutional change is frequently gradual.

Racial bias in the workplace is alive and well. Sometimes it is subtle, and sometimes it’s extremely obvious. Bottom line: it affects the employment and earnings, especially, of African Americans.

What is the new graduate to do besides keeping the phone on “record” and a lawyer on speed-dial? The best thing this class of 2017 can do is to be prepared, professional and productive. Graduates should find a mentor and a sponsor as soon as they can.

And, most importantly, they should take a little time to bask in their graduation accomplishment. Congrats, graduates, and good luck.

Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author, and founder of Economic Education. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off: Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available via amazon.com.