More Ph.D.s needing food stamps

Graduate degree holders took more public assistance between 2007 and 2010, but still were fewer than 1% of the total.

By Jason Notte Jan 10, 2013 5:44PM

Image: Money jar (Big Cheese Photo/PictureQuest)When students pursue a graduate degree to make a little extra money, just about none of them expect that added cash to come from food stamps.

Between 2007 and 2010, the number of people with master's degrees and doctorates who have had to apply for food stamps, unemployment or other assistance more than tripled, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Census data released in March 2011 indicates that while 22 million Americans held master's degrees or higher in 2010, about 360,000 were receiving public assistance.

By those numbers, graduates with doctorates fared only slightly better than those holding master's degrees. While more than 293,000 master's recipients needed public assistance in 2010, up from 102,000 in 2007, nearly 34,000 doctorate recipients used food stamps and other assistance programs. That's a sizable increase from the 9,800 doctorate holders who needed support back in 2007, but these numbers in a vacuum don't tell the complete story.

For example, Census numbers don't indicate what fields of study those degrees covered, which would make it a lot easier to identify low-demand job segments. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics sees increasing demand for registered nurses, for example, Ph.D.s looking to become judges aren't nearly as coveted.

Also, while the folks at OnlineColleges pointed out that 5,000 doctorate recipients worked as janitors in 2010 while 21% of graduates holding a bachelor's degree or better worked as customer service representatives that year, they failed to mention when students attained those degrees or if those jobs were their primary means of employment. In either equation, both masters and doctorate recipients are far better off in the job market than those with some college experience or none at all.

Students with associate degrees, for example, are faced with a slew of careers experiencing declines in job numbers. Want to be an aerospace technician, air traffic controller or forest and conservation technician? Good luck with that. High school grads, meanwhile, are looking at a work environment where dozens of jobs with entry-level or mid-level pay are evaporating.

As OnlineColleges points out, one in six Americans received food stamps in 2011. That's about 52.5 million people, which means even if every graduate degree holder on public assistance was on food stamps, they'd be less than 1% of the total.

The recession proved that degrees aren't necessarily a guarantee of future employment. That said, they don't seem to hurt a recipient's odds, either.

More on Money Now

Jan 10, 2013 7:47PM
A Ph. D in Medieval French Literature doesn't open many doors.  What a shock.
Jan 10, 2013 7:41PM
welcome to the grand scam. there's nowhere near enough slots to accommodate everyone with advanced degrees. There is simply no labor market need in the US.

The message is don't try to better yourself unless its in a very specific field. No room at the inn, baby.

All you get is a lifetime of debt.

Jan 10, 2013 7:38PM
There are many people that have bachelor and masters degrees working in low-end jobs.  Degrees actually hurt chances at advancement.  FedEx is one such company where education hurts advancement.  There are other companies that degreed persons have interviewed and told they were "over qualified."  The story have too many pitfalls to be of any value, other than the general perspective that well-educated professionals have a harder time than most.  Even when employment is found, it is often entry-level and supervisors often are at the HS level with little or no post-secondary education.
Jan 10, 2013 7:39PM
how are they qualifying?  you literally have to be dirt poor in my state to get food stamps.
Jan 10, 2013 8:13PM

It is amazing that there is a great deal of contempt for those who have taken the challenge of getting an advanced degree. And we wonder why our children are not doing as well as they could in school. Critical thinking skills are taught to most with advanced degrees. Many with advanced degrees also have practical degrees like culinary degrees as well.


 Teacher must go to school to update their skills as things change. I personally respect the intellect of many, some of whom do not have college degrees.

Jan 10, 2013 7:56PM
Speaking as someone who is pursuing a higher degree, MA at the moment and finishing my application for a PhD, it is a crap shoot.  You hear about more and more jobs being created, but the majority of them are lower income employees, and employers get queasy with the thought of having to pay anyone more than minimum wage.  The amount of assistance for graduate student is a small pool and everyone is fishing for what they can catch from that pool.  It really doesn't surprise me that there are many on government assistance.

Luckily, I have not had to use that route.  My tips for those who are moving on to higher education.
1)  Find a school with reasonable tuition.  A degree is a degree, except an online school.
2)  Find every grant there is to apply for and apply.
3)  Do not expect miracles.  I would not bet on it getting better.  I think the education part of the American Dream is over.
Jan 10, 2013 7:52PM
there are many bachelor and master degrees that are out there and are not worth the paper their written on because these people are smart but have no common sense or any workable work ethics
Jan 10, 2013 7:48PM

I would venture to guess that a Masters in Education may be one of the degrees with limited opportunities.


 School budgets across the country have been squeezed for the past five years and that was a popular degree for teachers to get looking to advance. The problem is that when everyone else has the same degree it becomes a necessity, not an advantage.

Jan 10, 2013 8:16PM

I hold a masters degree in Psychology with an emphasis in the health education since the recession many of the counseling positions that were once funded no longer exist.  I lost my job as a disabilities counselor at a community college due to funding cuts.  The criteria to counsel independently has become stricter while the jobs actually available have decreased. 


I know many people with advanced degrees that have applied for jobs they are way overqualified and I know one person that did reach the point of having to apply for food stamps to feed her kids as she was the only provider.  No one is immune.

Jan 10, 2013 7:54PM
I am a retired engineer (PhD, UCLA 1968) living now here in Las Vegas. I applied for a job as a writer-cashier in several sports books here, also as the entry clerk in a long-time storage facilitiy, but was told that I was too smart for a job like that. I think rather I was too "smart".
Jan 10, 2013 7:41PM
Hope and change, welcome to the Obama economy!
Jan 10, 2013 8:37PM
If I had continued to pursue my doctorate in clinical neuro-psychology it would have cost me 1/4 of a million dollars!
Jan 10, 2013 8:14PM
I still remember my mother's advice. She was only her discertation away from receiving her doctorate in computer science when she left school. When I asked her why she quit so close to receiving her PHD she said: "I only went this far because I wanted to know if I could do it. Besides having a PHD could only hurt me. Potential employers might think I'm over-qualified, or that I might ask for more money than they're willing to pay. So they wouldn't even ask me to come in for an interview."
Jan 10, 2013 7:59PM
To respond toYou do have to be dirt poor to get food stamps, That's the problem with this piece. It's all out of whack. Qualifying for food stamps would be likely for someone just graduating from college. But getting unemployment benefits can't be lumped in with that. There is no means test for unemployment insurance benefits -- it is just how long you worked and what your salary was; how much money you have or what you own is not counted to see if you qualify.

I totally agree with marcJ!

Seems the responders to this post are still asleep under the trance of this government.

It makes no difference of the education of >ANYONE ANYMORE!

NO JOBS! NO JOBS!  & when an educated individual attempts to survive, that same old song & dance is played of being over educated/qualified. 

Do you get it now old geezer??? 

Be prepared for the upcoming >Civil War everyone!   Because that's what's next!

Jan 10, 2013 9:42PM
I dropped out of HS at 16 and got my GED. I then took every computer certification I could over the next few years. 20 years later I'm still a HS drop out making 6 figures running the IT department at mutli national company.
Jan 10, 2013 8:47PM
Undergrad and grad education cost has skyrocketed the last 20 years. Add to this, the colleges offers many unnecessary classes and degrees that will lead to no jobs or incomes. The students are told to "follow their dreams" and not look into reality. It is nothing wrong with following your dream AFTER you have gotten real information about the benefit of a class/degree and its cost. Education is always an asset, but a useful education will also bring home some money for a decent lifestyle. To tackle the problem: affordable targeted education options, raise the minimum pay.
Jan 10, 2013 8:50PM
We are also losing a lot of jobs to foreign workers on the H1B1 (something like that).  My brother is one of those computer IT people working with guys they come from India.  I asked my brother if Americans could do those jobs and he said yes.  It's cheaper for companies to hire people from India.  If Romney had been elected there would a lot more visas for these people to take jobs Americans could do.  Obama will probably allow an increase of those visas too.  So you illegal immigrants stealing lot of job at one end and visa workers taking jobs in the middle and top. 
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