Are Liberal Arts Majors Working?

, Malcolm A. Kline, 2 Comments

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) is trying to prove that liberal arts majors are gainfully employed but they’re not doing so all that clearly.

For one thing, they call the report “The State of the Humanities 2018: Graduates in the Workforce and Beyond.” What exactly is beyond the workforce other than unemployment and retirement?

“While their unemployment rate has declined since the Great Recession, humanities graduates had a level of unemployment in 2015 that was modestly higher than the rate for the bachelor’s-holding population as a whole,” the report proclaims. “The 4.3% unemployment rate among terminal bachelor’s degree holders in humanities compares to 3.6% among graduates from all fields combined.”

But are the ones who are working as baristas? Brian C. Mitchell, who touts the AAAS study on the academe blog maintained by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) claims they are not. “Mainstream and social media tend to portray arts and humanities graduates as underemployed and overeducated, flipping burgers or making cappuccino, a stereotype that is refuted by a recent study,” he asserts.
The report itself is a bit less clear on that point:

“Humanities graduates are similar to the entire population of bachelor’s degree holders with respect to the likelihood that they engage in key work activities. The share of humanities majors who reported spending more than 10% of their time on managerial and supervisory activities was identical to the share among all fields (58%). Humanities majors were somewhat more likely to be engaged in teaching as well as sales and marketing work and somewhat less likely to be doing STEM-related activities (basic and applied research, design, computer programming, and production), though the share of humanities majors engaged in each of those activities was close to the percentage for all graduates.”

Of course, one could be “managing and supervising” a software development firm….or a Starbuck’s.