Thursday, November 28, 2002

Tasmania is the national home of ageing fast-food workers, as today’s Australian (“The Great Dividing Range” by George Megalogenis) reports. At 28, the median age of Tasmanian fast-food workers is almost a decade older than any other state/territory. Scarier still, these Tasmanian burger-flippers earn an average of $148 per week (for a full-time job, I’m assuming).

Megalogenis extrapolates the Tasmanian fast-food workers stats to suggest that the state is an economic basket case. Perhaps true, but more problematically, he subscribes to the fallacy (albeit a common one) that high rates of tertiary education directly lead to higher salaries, and so lower rates of burger flipping. Apart from the ACT, the percentage of residents with tertiary education only marginally varies, between 30% (you guessed it – Tasmania) and 36% (NSW). A more interesting set of statistics would be the percentages of uni graduate burger-flippers in each state/territory – thus neatly showing the mismatch behind the fallacy.

A bit of my own research-on-the-fly here found such statistics elusive, with a 1998 DEETYA report:
being the most comprehensive source of (although obviously far from recent) data.

In summary, DEETYA found that that, over the previous decade, the graduate unemployment rate, in the range of 3.5-4%, was less than half that of the non-graduate rate. Whatever the relativities against non-graduates, I think that this figure is disturbingly high, particularly as the separate figure for younger graduates (without the age-skewing of older graduate, whose unemployment rate would be close to zero) would be considerably higher.

Also of interest in the DEETYA report is the noting of a clear trend, over the decade between 1989-1998, towards graduates – those who can find employment of some description – working in part-time and/or non­professional jobs.

As the report says, of the proverbial uni graduate burger-flippers:

The experience of the last decade of recent graduates indicates that the link between education and earnings is somewhat tenuous for some graduates … While some graduates will be disappointed with their occupational destinations, others will find relevance and challenges in their non­professional jobs while others will be active in re-shaping their jobs to better draw on their professional skills.

Maybe things have changed, but I would have thought that a burger-flipper asking their boss to “re-shape my job” would soon see them catapulted, with or without re-shaped coccyxes, into that other statistical category.

In trying to put another positive spin on this trend, the DEETYA authors then ask a question that they obviously assume is rhetorical:

It is important to note, however, that the issue is not whether graduates were earning relatively lower starting salaries than they were a decade ago but whether they were earning higher salaries than they would have had they not acquired a degree qualification.
[my emphasis]

Quite a cheering thought, then, for our 28 y.o. uni graduate flipping burgers in Tasmania for $148 per week – the job, and pay, may not be all he/she would have liked, but if he/she had never gone to uni, things would have been much, much worse. Or so the statistics say, at least when they’re spun right round like a beef patty.

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