Careers For Change

By Eric Schwarz, Co-founder & CEO, College for Social Innovation

Getting a good job regardless of your chosen career path is no longer a given for college graduates in the United States. Despite the economic gains made since the recession, college graduates are still struggling to find career track jobs. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 17.5% of young college graduates are unemployed or employed part-time and a staggering 43.5% of employed college grads under the age of 27 work in jobs that do not require a college degree, such as baristas and bike messengers. According to data collected from the Center for Economic Policy Research, only 50% of college grads get a career-track job by their mid-20s. This number drops dramatically to 33% for African-American college grads.

Today College for Social Innovation launches a new publication, Changemakers Rising, featuring the stories of our amazing Semester in the City students, alumni, and their mentors. In future posts we’ll spotlight the stories and ideas of aspiring problem solvers as they wrestle with tough issues ranging from prison reform to climate change, economic opportunity, and expanding access to the arts. We’ll also share the stories of young people already building successful changemaking careers — professionals who are working full-time in non-profit organizations, social mission businesses, and government agencies.

In 2015 College for Social Innovation launched Semester in the City, a partnership between leading social sector organizations and colleges to provide fully-credited, semester-long internships in Boston. Participating students are matched with an organization working on issues they are passionate about (education, human rights, environment, arts, etc) and also receive intensive mentoring and opportunities to learn through reflection activities and a seminar. Students live together in Boston in housing provided by the program and receive a full semester of academic credit, allowing them to stay on track to graduate on time while increasing their chances of getting a job when they do. We keep costs the same or lower than a traditional semester on campus and strive to open the doors of opportunity to more young people by equalizing access to the kind of great internships and great mentors that often launch careers and change lives. In doing so, we hope to drive down the number of un- and under-employed college grads, while also educating and inspiring the next generation of problem solvers.

The current and future changemaking rock stars you’ll meet underscore a little appreciated truth, which is that jobs in the social sector — defined here as non-profits, government, and social mission businesses — are growing faster than jobs in the private sector. As described in recently released national and Massachusetts reports, there are millions of opportunities for young people to build good careers solving problems in their communities and around the world.

Here are five points to keep in mind about careers in the social sector:

  1. The non-profit sector is growing faster than government or the private sector, partly because most non-profit jobs are in the service sector and therefore less likely to be eliminated due to outsourcing or automation. In addition, non-profits are comparatively recession-proof as they rely on a mix of funding from government, user fees, and philanthropy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that during the Great Recession (from 2007 to 2012) the non-profit sector as a whole grew by 8.5 percent, adding about one million jobs, while the for-profit sector shrunk by 3 percent. Over the last 10 years, according to a 2016 report by the PNP staffing group, the nonprofit sector has grown by 20% in contrast to a growth rate of just 2–3% in the for-profit sector.
  2. The social sector is BIG — with ~15 million jobs in non-profits, ~21 million jobs in government, and millions more in social mission businesses. According to 2013 data from the Nonprofit Quarterly, the social sector as a whole (including nonprofits and government) boasts 36.3 million full-time jobs — 20 million of them requiring a college degree. Millions more work in social mission businesses.
  3. Pay in the non-profit sector is growing faster than in the private sector. From 2007 to 2012 overall wages, not adjusted for inflation, grew by 26.3 percent in the nonprofit sector and by 7.6 percent in the for-profit sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If your goal coming out of college is to get to a six-figure salary while still in your 20s and to eventually land in the top 1% (a salary north of $300,000), a for-profit career in finance, consulting, or law is likely the best way to go. But if your goal is earning a solid middle- to upper middle-income salary and building a purpose-rich career, then the social sector is a great option.
  4. Average pay in the non-profit sector is actually higher than average pay in the private sector, although it is slightly lower for management jobs. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report says the average non-profit job pays more than the average for-profit job, as represented in the chart below. That’s partly because a lot of the low-end minimum wage jobs are for-profit (think fast food). When you go up the wage scale and look at management jobs that require a college degree, the private sector generally pays slightly more, but when you factor in benefits like health care, overall compensation in the social sector is competitive.
  5. People working in the non-profit sector typically have a higher rate of job satisfaction and engagement than their colleagues in the for-profit sector. In the current political climate in particular, many young people are looking to build careers that align with their values and the social sector provides millions of jobs that provide this opportunity.

As College for Social Innovation partners with the social sector to develop a better, bigger, and more diverse talent pipeline for social change, we are particularly excited to shape career opportunities for those coming from families and communities still trying to gain access to good jobs at good wages. Two-thirds of the students in our founding cohorts of students are first generation students, students of color, and/or low-income. Our aim is to open the door to good middle class jobs for millions of underserved college students while simultaneously helping thousands of social sector organizations tackle humanity’s tough challenges with a stronger and more diverse staff.

Furthermore, we hope to point the way to a new era of full employment by putting millions more Americans to work solving social problems — ranging from climate change to poverty. The bottom line of our economy is that we as a society can do more than we used to with fewer people. As one example, the share of Americans employed in manufacturing has dropped by 60% over the last 80 years, but our manufacturing output has increased by 600% over the same time period. Automation promises to continue reducing the people power needed to produce our current level of goods and services. The big answer is not to somehow hold back the inexorable job destruction of automation, but instead to create millions of jobs by doing new and important things. We don’t necessarily need more consumer gadgets. But we could surely use more people caring for elderly and for low-income children; more people installing energy savings devices and bringing solar energy to low-income communities; and more people making art and bringing its inspiration to more communities. If we want to return to full employment, we need to dream bigger and do more, and the social sector — already growing quickly — will need to grow even faster, allowing tens of millions of Americans to realize the dream of doing well while doing good!

Eric Schwarz is the Co-Founder and CEO of the College for Social Innovation, which offers the Semester in the City program in partnership with leading colleges and social sector organizations. Eric previously Co-Founded and led Citizen Schools and US2020 and served as a senior leader at City Year and as an award-winning journalist and a political organizer. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed book, The Opportunity Equation, as well as the co-editor of The Case For 21st Century Learning and author of a chapter, Calling All Citizens, in the New York Times best-seller, Waiting for Superman. Eric graduated from the University of Vermont (B.A.) in 1983 and from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (M. Ed) in 1997.
To learn more about College for Social Innovation or Semester in the City, visit us on the web or see student photos and comments on social media at #MySemesterInTheCity