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College Grads: Hard Work Plus Education Alone Don't Lead to Success

College grads today are wondering whether education plus hard work is really the formula for success—and for good reason.

Only half of those who graduated between 2006 and 2011 have full-time jobs, says a new study from Rutgers University. (NPR featured the study yesterday on "Morning Edition.") More than half are saddled with college debt (the median amount is $20,000) that is shaping their life choices. For example, more than one-quarter live with their parents, and more than half get help from their families to meet basic needs.

“The cream of the crop of America’s youth, graduates of four-year colleges and universities, believe the American dream of upward economic mobility may have stopped with them,” says the report.

Bleak?

Visions of Future Success-Rutgers

Source: Chasing the American Dream: Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession, Rutgers

Yeah. Until you remember that education and hard work alone have never guaranteed jobs or good pay.

The missing ingredient? It’s leverage. The power of collective action.

Luckily, young people get it.

Students and young people were among the first leaders of the movements in Wisconsin and Ohio last year against far-right political efforts to take collective bargaining rights from public workers. Since then, they’ve been organizing and mobilizing on behalf of the 99 percent.

Young worker groups are a burgeoning part of America’s labor movement, and those groups are teaming up with activist student groups to demand that our elected leaders make policy that works for regular people, not just the super-wealthy.

It’s well-documented that when workers—young or older—bargain together in unions, the result is better jobs, better pay, better benefits, more job security and the possibility of a secure retirement.

So, yes, actually, recent college grads do understand that the American Dream could stop with them, and they’re doing something about it.

I hope Rutgers does another study, this one about the growing number of America’s workers who put two and two together to understand that, while a hardworking and educated workforce is a more productive and more satisfied workforce, those two things alone can’t make the American Dream real. It takes collective action.

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