For those whose job is to understand work and workers, few facts are more dismaying than this:
Of all the jobs available today to people with high school degrees only, just three of 10 promise a family-sustaining wage, calculated as $35,000 or above, according to Jeff Strohl, an economist and colleague of Carnevale's.
"The high school economy is dead or dying," Strohl said.
And that exerts a price, Kefalas intoned: "Kids are depressed over the uncertainties. It's one thing to be old and to have life disappointments. It's another to have a midlife crisis at 23 because the world let you down."
Betsy Sappington strummed her guitar in the small basement of her parents' home in Prospect Park, Delaware County.
She's writing a Taylor Swiftian song about love and pain: I should have watched out for myself. As the song suggests, things have not been easy for the 21-year-old graduate of Interboro High School.
Sappington works for $10 an hour at the nonprofit Community Action Agency of Delaware County. The job, which helps low-income people get their homes weatherized, is guaranteed until next fall. After that, who knows?
She got the job through her father, who worked for the agency as an installer for 22 years but who was forced to retire in 2008 after a stroke. Sappington's mother, who was laid off from an airport-parking company in 2006, suffered a heart attack three years ago.
Both parents are now disabled, and Sappington must cook each night for the household, which also includes her grandmother and two siblings.
This isn't the life she imagined. She'd gone to Delaware County Community College part time for 11/2 years to study business management, but lack of money forced her to quit.
"She belongs in college," said Linda Freeman, a family friend, referencing Sappington's A average and inclusion on her school's honor roll. "She would have been the first person in her family to attain college. Now it's just gone."
Sappington may have to resign herself to a blue-collar life. But where will she work when she's 22?
"These days, people with college degrees do the filing in offices," said Sappington, an easy-smiling young woman who scowls when she recalls scrambling in the labor market. She applied for a receptionist's job but was turned away because the firm wanted someone with a college-level accounting degree.
"But the job had no accounting," Sappington said. "It blows me away."
Her friends search for work constantly. One who posted on Facebook about a cashier's job at an apparel store was flooded with questions about it.
"It is insane there are so many people desperate for work," Sappington said. At one point before the agency job, Sappington had applied to McDonald's, Wal-Mart, a CVS pharmacy, and an Acme market. All had turned her down or not responded.
"I'm a smart kid and a hard worker, and I couldn't even get a job at McDonald's," Sappington said, deflated. "I couldn't get a holiday season job at Wal-Mart. Can you believe that? That's how many are out there looking."
She laments the loss of the days when people applied for jobs in person, not via computer, and could win work by demonstrating pluck and brains.