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Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman June 14, 2013

Florida leaders say more than half of 2012 college graduates are 'unemployed or underemployed'

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford say changes are needed to Florida’s education system to match the realities of Florida’s economy.

In a column published June 11, 2013, in the Tampa Bay Times, the two wrote that Florida’s K-12 system should emphasize rigorous vocational training for students who want it, arguing that those are the jobs that are in demand.

The stakes, Weatherford and Gaetz wrote, are critical.

"While more than half of last year's U.S. college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, the ironic truth is that there are thousands of jobs in Florida unfilled because employers can't find workers whose skills meet industry specifications," the two Republican leaders wrote.

We decided to focus on how last year’s college graduates are faring. (We are putting Gaetz on the Truth-O-Meter because his spokeswoman said he was the one who contributed that fact to the piece.)

The statement is actually an old line that Mitt Romney used during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Its genesis is based on research by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, which in turn is based on data from the federal Current Population Survey, as well as Labor Department measures of what level of education is required to perform each of some 900 jobs.

The findings were published by the Associated Press on April 22, 2012, under the headline "In Weak Job Market, One In Two College Graduates Are Jobless Or Underemployed."

"Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs – waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example – and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans...," the AP wrote.

"About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed … Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year."

While the Gaetz/Weatherford statement appears to mirror the AP’s reporting, there actually are a few distinctions.

Gaetz and Weatherford did err in referring to "last year’s U.S. college graduates," when the study -- which came out in 2012 -- studied all bachelor’s degree holders under 25.

Andrew Sum, the Northeastern professor who did the research, said the bigger issue with the claim is how the figures may be interpreted and the difference between using "jobless," as the AP did, and "unemployed" as Gaetz and Weatherford said.

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To most non-labor economists they are the same thing, but they can have a different technical definition, said Gary Burtless, a labor market expert with the Brookings Institution. Unemployed means someone who wants a job but cannot find one. Jobless means anyone who doesn’t have a job -- whether they want one or not.

As such, Sum says that Gaetz and Weatherford inflated their claim.

"About half the jobless were not actively looking for work partly due to college attendance," Sum said. Put another way, about half of recent college graduates who are "jobless" do not want a job because they are pursuing some other degree. Sum said his staff ran the numbers again using the first four months of 2013 and essentially found the same results.

As far as those underemployed, it’s important to note that it might not all be the economy -- or public education’s -- fault.

"There are many perfectly respectable things a new college graduate may be doing (like getting an advanced degree or having and raising a new child) that might leave them jobless and underemployed," Burtless told us via email.

Our ruling

In defending changes to the state’s education system, Gaetz and Weatherford said that "more than half of last year's U.S. college graduates are unemployed or underemployed."

To get there, the two relied on articles citing research by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, which found that of recent bachelor’s degree earners -- those under 25 -- 53.6 percent were either jobless or underemployed.

There are two factors for us in issuing our rating:

1) How big of a mistake was it for Gaetz and Weatherford to say "last year’s U.S. college graduates" when the study looked at all bachelor’s degree earners under 25, a time frame that would span beyond 2012? And;

2) How big of a difference is it for Gaetz and Weatherford to use "unemployed" when "jobless" might have been better?

On the first question, it’s likely that the statistics would be different by looking just at 2012 graduates compared to a longer period of time (that data isn’t available).

On the second, economists we talked to said it’s commonplace for people to interchange "jobless" and "unemployed," though some experts would argue they mean different things. While we don’t quibble with Weatherford and Gaetz using the term unemployed, it’s important to note in this particular context that researchers looked beyond people unable to find work and included people who were not looking for work. That difference in approach changes the figure.

After reviewing all the evidence, we think it’s safe to say that the statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. That’s exactly our definition of Half True.

Our Sources

Tampa Bay Times, "Act makes education a path to jobs," June 11, 2013

Associated Press, "1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed," April, 22, 2012

Email interview with Gaetz spokeswoman Katie Betta, June 13, 2013

PolitiFact, Republican Jewish Coalition says half of recent college grads "can't find a job," Aug. 2, 2012 (Mostly True)

PolitiFact, "Mitt Romney is right, getting a job right out of college can be tricky business," Aug. 27, 2012 (True), Fewest Young Adults in 60 Years Have Jobs, Feb. 9, 2012.

Center for College Affordability and Productivity, "Why are recent college graduates underemployed," Jan. 2013

Email interview with Andrew Sum, June 13, 2013

Email interview with Gary Burtless, June 13, 2013

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Florida leaders say more than half of 2012 college graduates are 'unemployed or underemployed'

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