By Bryan Caplan
Economists are finally waking up to the fact that many people are overqualified for their jobs. You don’t need a college degree to be a baggage porter or bellhop, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17% of them have a bachelor’s degree or more. So do 15% of taxi drivers and chauffeurs – and 14% of mail carriers. Even if you insist that what you learn in college is broadly useful on-the-job, can you really believe that it makes you better at putting letters in mailboxes?
Once you drink this Kool-aid, though, you’re on a slippery slope. If you admit that “Some jobs really don’t require a college education,” it’s hard to deny the harsher fact that “Some jobs don’t require a high school education either.” Take baggage porters and bellhops. What did they learn in their last four years of high school that makes them more productive in their jobs? If you answer, “A strong work ethic,” think again. Which actually builds a better work ethic: goofing off in high school with the other kids who don’t plan to go to college? Or hustling for tips as a bellhop?
On average, I freely admit, the return to education remains fairly high. But the marginal return is a different story. Students determined to finish college – or high school – probably aren’t going to remain overqualified for long. It’s the borderline students, I conjecture, who get stuck in jobs that don’t require their formal credentials. We should accept this fact – and stop encouraging and subsidizing these borderline students to finish high school and college. Someone has to carry baggage. Shouldn’t it be high school drop-outs?