Marketing Dept., Shenandoah University, CC 3.0
Source: Marketing Dept., Shenandoah University, CC 3.0

The government-reported low unemployment rate paints a misleadingly rosy picture. The job market looks far worse when you add two huge groups not counted in the “unemployment rate:”

First, there’s the under-employed: people who want a full-time professional-level job but can only find part-time, low-pay work, or one they could have done straight out of high school—Uber anyone? Then there are the millions who have given up looking for work. Somehow, the government decided to not count them as unemployed. A more accurate reflection of the true job market is the under-reported Labor Participation rate, which is within ½ of 1% of the lowest since 1978. A record 95 million Americans 18-64 are not in the labor force.

Add the U.S. having the highest percentage of college graduates in history, and it's easy to understand why a degree is a mere hunting license for employment beyond a McJob.

These ideas may help. They’re widely applicable, not aimed at stars who usually don't have to look for work—Employers recruit them.

Choosing a career

Pick a career in which your competition isn't wildly competent, a career that's resistant to automation and offshoring yet is rewarding to many people. Any of these appeal?

Government jobs, for example, teacher or analyst. As is well-known, because government can and does raise taxes and prints money as needed, it is more generous in benefits, holidays, and vacations than one might think. Perhaps more surprising, a recent study found that, for the same work, government salaries are higher than their private-sector equivalent. And of course, government job security is nonpareil.

Non-PhD jobs in higher education. Many people who supervise orientation, advising, housing, extracurriculars, admissions, and alumni relations enjoy their jobs. You get to work on a college campus, the school year is short, and unlike professor jobs, a PhD is usually not required.

Program grant writer, administrator, or evaluator. Ever more government and foundation-funded initiatives employ people to write proposals, administer programs, and evaluate them. Such people are hired by government, foundations, and consulting firms.

Fundraiser. Employees who bring in the bucks do well, even in the supposedly parsimonious non-profit sector. After all, money is nonprofits’ lifeblood. It’s a good career for a low-key but savvy salesperson, especially if older. Most people who give lots of money to charity have wrinkles.

Intermediate-level health care provider. The U.S. is moving toward “covering” everyone. That will dramatically decrease access and increase cost. As a result, much physician work will be done by physician assistants, physical therapy work by physical therapy assistants, anesthesiologists by nurse anesthetists, psychiatrists and psychologists by counselors, etc. Those are wise career choices for detail-oriented, caring people, who can handle the preparatory science courses. They pay well and require far less schooling than their more lofty analogues.

Simple self-employment. Complex businesses or those attracting superstars such as in biotech and high-tech are too risky for most people. If you can accept that status is often the enemy of contentment, you’re wise to choose a simple business, in which your competition is likely to be modest. A few examples: handyperson, robot technician, tutor, a small chain of flower carts or stands near train and bus terminals, or health care advocate. The latter fights with insurance companies, Medicare, etc. to get care and coverage for their patients.

Politician. Government continues to grow, some would say metastasize. There are growing numbers of commissions, councils, boards, etc. For example, where I live, in addition to federal, state, and city governments, there are elected officials on, for example, park commissions, transportation boards, and utilities districts.

Vetting a job

Alas, the job market requires many people to accept a less-than-ideal job, perhaps a low- or no-pay internship or volunteer gig. But especially if  you’re going to accept a job that pays less than minimum wage, you certainly have the right to vet it carefully. After all, one gig could be a dead-end, the other a career launchpad. So in interviews, ask questions such as, “What will my day-to-day be like?” “Tell me about the  training I’ll get?” What percentage of interns (or volunteers) are offered decent-paying work within six months? To what extent can I count on mentorship and, if I’m good, a mentor who will champion me in obtaining a quality paid job?”

On the job, the advice is same-old, same-old: Work hard, make friends with the bosses, and, in your first conversation with your boss, ask what you can do to boost your chances of converting that crapola gig into a decent-paying job.

Don’t count on that place of employment to sufficiently train you or to eventually employ you adequately. Keep networking—whether in-person or online—and keep developing skills that are valuable now and likely to remain so in the future. Read articles and watch YouTubes, study on your own or with a tutor, attend webinars, bootcamps, and conferences.

In conclusion

Alas, automation, offshoring, and the increased costs of hiring an American (the mandated benefits plus expanded rights of employee lawsuit,) mean that, even with one or more degrees, only A and maybe B players will consistently have well-paying employment. I hope these ideas help you become one of them.

The 2nd edition of The Best of Marty Nemko is available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at

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