That’s the gist of this article by Anya Kamenetz at the inaptly named TomPaine.common sense. (I don’t think that the author of Common Sense would have much use for the collectivist notions espoused there, but no matter.) She writes that it won’t be enough to put more and more students through college unless the economy has better jobs for them to do. “If we doubled the percentage of college degree holders without adding more jobs that require degrees, we’d only create a new class of overqualified, underemployed Americans with lots of debt,” Kamenetz says. That’s absolutely right, and is precisely what we have been doing for decades. We now find plenty of people who have college degrees doing jobs like selling Starbucks coffee.

Instead of concluding that we have oversold higher education, Kamenetz thinks that the federal government needs to do things to raise the job market up to the level that will be adequate to employ all those college grads in the kinds of jobs they supposedly should have. What does she have in mind? She doesn’t point to any particular policy as the salvation, but wonders about the benefits of, inter alia, requiring employers “to create more highly skilled jobs and train workers for them.” How would the government go about that?! The romantic pull of legislation as the solution for every possible complaint still burns brightly in the minds of leftist writers.

Kamenetz observes that the earnings gap between college educated workers and those with only high school diplomas has been widening and states that this is because high school earnings have been declining. She thinks that this proves that the government should intervene in the labor market to make things better for them, but I think there is another explanation for the “gap.” It’s largely due to credential inflation. Since so many young Americans now get college degrees, many employers have settled on the BA as a requirement for job applicants. That’s not because the work is so difficult that it couldn’t possibly be done by anyone who hasn’t gotten a degree in something, but because it’s a useful screening device. Why interview high school-educated who are apt to be somewhat less trainable when there is a large pool of college graduates to choose from? As credential inflation has spread, more and more jobs and career avenues are shut off to those who don’t go to college. They are compressed into an increasingly narrow slice of the labor market and naturally their average earnings decline relative to that of college graduates.

None of Kamenetz’s ideas about “fixing” the job market (which include such populist fantasies as raising the minimum wage, encouraging worker-owned firms, and helping the “beleaguered union movement”) will do any good for people with or without college degrees. If the people at TomPaine want to advocate something useful, they should push for higher academic standards in K-12 education and credentialing alternatives to the increasingly meaningless BA.