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It’s been a bad year to graduate from college

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Want another reason why students have been having a harder time paying off student loans? Wages for college graduates keep falling. Here’s Michael Mandel: “In the third quarter of 2011, full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree and no advanced degree earned 3.5% less, in real terms, than a year earlier. Male college graduates saw their real wages fall by 5.3% over the past year, while female college graduates had a 1.4% decline.”

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

College grads are making less money right out of college than they used to, and it’s becoming harder and harder to pay their loans — even as the cost of college is swelling. What’s more, this isn’t a brand-new phenomenon. As Mandel’s earlier research has found, real earnings for young male college graduates have been declining for a while, and they’re now down 19 percent from their peak back in 2000. For young female graduates, earnings are down 16 percent from their peak in 2003.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, college graduates are still faring better than their non-college peers. The recession is brutalizing non-college workers, while it’s merely hurting those who go to college. But it’s a big part of the student loan story. And it highlights the arbitrary nature of the recession. It’s unlikely that the class of 2011 is somehow less talented or less capable than the class of 2010 or even the class of 2000. But by virtue of being born in the wrong year, today’s college grads are doing far worse — and research shows that that disadvantage is likely to stick with them for years to come.

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