College Majors with the Highest Unemployment Rates
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By Brian O'Connell

August 29, 2019

College students looking for a reliable income in their working years may want to bypass majors which have unemployment rates above 6.5%. Unfortunately, there are more occupations than you might think that fall into the category of having a high unemployment rate.

While that is undeniably the case, there’s more to the matter of college majors than just unemployment rates – much more.

Prospective salary, the ability to make a difference by choosing a vocation, and the potential side benefits from working in a specific field all factor into a student’s long-term occupational outlook.

For example, a career in teaching may present issues in terms of job availability and salary, but it’s also a sector with plenty of paid vacation time, solid benefits (like a guaranteed pension and health care) and making a difference by educating the next generation. It also comes with loan forgiveness options like teacher loan forgiveness and public service loan forgiveness.

Still, it just makes sense to know going in how a profession rates on employment prospects before your child commits tens of thousands of dollars in college costs to land a job in the field. After all, why take out $40,000 in student loans to train for a career where the risk of unemployment is high, and where it might take years to land a job that offers financial security?

By and large, college majors that are narrow in focus and that have strong demand, like computer science or engineering, will generate lower industry unemployment rates than do majors that are broader in scope and less in demand, such as humanities and liberal arts or marketing.

Let’s dig into the data and see what it tells us about college majors with the highest unemployment rates.

Good Job Data is Available

Fortunately, there is good data out there that shines a much-needed light on specific industries and occupations, and how they fare with job opportunities for college graduates.

According to industry data, these college majors have the highest unemployment rates – and college students training for a career in these majors have a right to know if a good job will be available when they leave campus.

Note that, according to the U.S. government, the median early-career annual income for all Bachelor’s degree recipients stands at $40,000, while the median mid-career salary is $68,000.

Those numbers come from HeyTutor, an educational tutoring platform, which analyzed overall employment data for college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27.

College Majors with High Unemployment Rates

The U.S. unemployment rate was 3.7% as of July 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the unemployment rate for Bachelor’s degree recipients was 2.2%. Some academic majors, however, have much higher unemployment rates.

Mass Media. The U.S. news media industry has been in a long-term state of flux, as newspapers and magazines cede major ground to digital news and entertainment platforms, and to the major social media sites.

According to HeyTutor, mass media is the poster child for a sector with high unemployment. Mass media has an unemployment rate of 7.8%, the highest number in the HeyTutor survey rankings. Mass media also has a relatively low annual income salary ceiling, as the median mid-career mass media pay is just $60,000 annually.

Liberal Arts. Like mass media, liberal arts has a high unemployment number, at 6.7%, and an underemployment rate of 54% according to government figures. Also like mass media, a career in the humanities or social sciences only brings in a median early-career annual income of $33,000.

The key to maximizing the financial side of a liberal arts degree is to have a more robust and in-demand academic minor or to have a graduate degree (like in teaching) to raise one’s salary level heading into a professional career in the liberal arts.

Anthropology. This collegiate major is an interesting one, as it leads to the study of human civilization, which offer all sorts of career paths, like as an immigration attorney, a corporate diversity officer or a foreign officer for the U.S. government.

But, with an anthropology degree, such jobs are difficult to come by (there’s just not that many of them) so overall salary levels remain low in the sector. According to the U.S. government, the unemployment level in the anthropology market is 6.6%, with an underemployment rate of 59%. Median early career salary is $33,000, as well.

Philosophy. While the city squares of ancient Athens of Rome may have had their fair share of philosophers sharing the meaning of life with the public, there’s just not that much demand for philosophy majors today.

Yes, positions exist in academia and corporations value the intellectual capabilities of philosophy majors. Additionally, there is a path to a stable career in not only teaching and in business, but in public administration, journalism and law, where some philosophy majors go to speak on behalf of justice and an individuals’ right to a fair trial.

That said, philosophy is another college major that doesn’t fair well under the harsh light of government statistics. The sector’s unemployment rate if 6.2% and the median mid-career salary range is $62,000.

By and large, a philosophy major’s career path seems to be of the “hit or miss” variety, with the larger incomes earned by college graduates hired for their smarts and not for their ability to argue about the mind-body problem and the nature of consciousness.

The construction industry. The U.S. construction services industry is highly cyclical, dependent on the good health of the economy when new homes and buildings are in high demand.

U.S. government labor numbers peg the industry’s unemployment rate at 6.1%, but that number is somewhat misleading. If you can land a professional job in the construction sector (and keep one) as a manager, building designer or safety and building code specialist, the resulting salary can be high.

The median early career wage stands at $56,000 and the median mid-career wage is $85,000, although the construction sector is deemed by labor experts to be a relatively unstable one compared to teaching or health care.

Also, you don’t see many graduate students moving on to a career in construction, with only 10% of graduate degree students making a career out of construction.

The Takeaway on College Majors with High Unemployment Rates

The five collegiate majors listed above are hardly alone in having high unemployment figures.

The social sciences, mathematics, and surprisingly enough, engineering technologies, for instance, all have unemployment figures of 5% or above.

It’s also helpful to know that unemployment isn’t the only indicator of an academic major’s income potential, as some industries (like teaching) are more stable than other industries (like construction).

Consequently, some digging into an industry’s overall income potential and happiness level is highly recommended for college graduates in all industries.

A good place to start:

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