College and university students in the class of 2020 faced the worst -- and most uncertain -- job market the U.S. had seen in generations. Economic fallout in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak pushed unemployment to 13.3% in May of 2020 as millions of college students graduated and joined the labor force. Only a month earlier, the U.S. jobless was 14.8%, the highest point since the Great Depression.

With the average annual cost of a college education ranging from about $26,000 at a four-year public school to $54,000 at a private one, many students take on debt to afford college. Total student debt topped $1.7 trillion in 2020. Considering the financial challenges, it is as important as ever that college graduates secure jobs that require the skills they obtained as undergraduates, and that pay a salary that justifies the investment in their education.

Though the job market has improved significantly since the early months of the pandemic on a national scale, in some major U.S. cities, recent college graduates still face considerable hurdles.

Grants Pass, Oregon, is not an ideal place for recent college graduates to look for a job, largely because the types of jobs that typically require a college degree are not especially common in the metro area. Only 7.1% of area jobs are in sectors that traditionally require a bachelor's degree -- like information, finance and insurance, professional, scientific, and technical services -- a smaller share than in over 90% of all U.S. metro areas.

College-educated adults in Grants Pass are also far more likely to struggle financially than college-educated workers nationwide. The typical college-educated worker in the metro area earns about $40,500 annually and 15.5% of college educated residents live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, the median earnings among college graduates nationwide is about $55,000 and less than 10% of college graduates nationwide live below the poverty line.

The worst cities for recent graduates to find a job were identified using an index of six key measures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau: (1) average monthly earnings for 22-24-year-olds in Q1 2021, (2) change in employment of 22-24-year-olds from Q1 2020 to Q1 2021, (3) the share of 22-24-year-olds employed in professions that typically require a college education, (4) the October 2021 unemployment rate, (5) the ratio of median earnings for adults with a bachelor's degree to the median earnings for adults of all education levels, and (6) the poverty rate among college educated adults. Only metro areas where 35% or less of the population 3 years and over are enrolled in college or graduate school were considered in our analysis.

 

RankMetro areaEmployment in sectors that typically require a 4-yr. degree (%)Avg. monthly earnings of 22-24 year-olds ($)Poverty rate among adults with a bachelor's degree (%)
1El Centro, CA7.11,82813.7
2Yuma, AZ10.51,99412.3
3Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, HI5.12,2618.6
4Hattiesburg, MS7.91,52016.1
5Santa Fe, NM12.42,03312.0
6Farmington, NM9.61,83813.4
7Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, MS8.91,69913.1
8Beckley, WV8.21,93614.5
9Fayetteville, NC10.41,77613.0
10Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA8.31,76712.4
11Flint, MI9.51,94613.1
12Kingston, NY11.51,99811.4
13East Stroudsburg, PA5.61,8948.8
14Grants Pass, OR7.12,04315.5
15Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH11.11,95210.8
16Erie, PA11.21,86911.0
17Lake Charles, LA8.52,38010.9
18Pine Bluff, AR11.31,76013.7
19Albany, GA10.31,71215.4
20Muskegon, MI6.01,98611.2
21Valdosta, GA11.11,67615.1
22New Orleans-Metairie, LA12.12,02812.6
23Pocatello, ID10.31,79412.3
24Brownsville-Harlingen, TX10.31,61715.7
25Houma-Thibodaux, LA9.32,15913.0
26Shreveport-Bossier City, LA10.51,82613.8
27Saginaw, MI9.31,99512.7
28Sumter, SC7.21,91813.8
29Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL12.12,01910.1
30Battle Creek, MI10.32,26812.0