BAKING everyday might sound fun, particularly at this time of year. But for one recent graduate of the University of Georgia, working in a cake shop for six months quickly turned from sweet to sickly. At her birthday party recently she warned sweet-toothed friends that she just couldn’t face another black forest gateau.
This was not the career she had in mind when she pursued a degree in linguistics, but getting a good job in the South is tough if you’re young. A new report from MDC, a non-profit based in Durham, says that more than 30% of those under 25 in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and North Carolina are “underemployed”: they are either looking for a job, settling for part-time work or giving up on the search entirely. This is quite a bit higher than the overall underemployment rate in those states, which is less than 15%. This makes it hard to secure a return on the cost of tuition, particularly as the price of a degree continues to rise. Tuition costs at public universities in Louisiana, Georgia and Florida, for example, have risen by 50% since fiscal year 2008.
Why are young people having such a tough time in the labour market? Part of the problem is competition. Many Southern cities, with their low cost of living, cheap property prices and good weather, attract graduates from across America, and there aren’t enough jobs to employ them all. Houston saw a 50% increase in graduates aged between 25 to 34 in the 12 years since 2000; Nashville saw a 48% leap. Newcomers clash over the available jobs, and residents with inferior credentials are easily displaced. Those who fail to become knowledge workers often end up shunted into the growing service sector, doing the kind of jobs (serve coffee, fix up houses) that techie types are too busy to do for themselves. “Talent recruitment is not balanced against talent development in the South,” says David Dodson, president of MDC. “It’s almost like a colonial economy, because the benefits accrue to those that come from someplace else.”