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Bosses Can Beat the Tight Labor Market by Tearing the Paper Ceiling

Arbitrary degree requirements may be holding the US back from a full recovery.

A job recruiter speaks to job seekers at a job fair in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

A job recruiter speaks to job seekers at a job fair in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg 

Add paper ceiling to the growing list of workplace buzzwords. That’s the term for barriers degree requirements create for job seekers without a college diploma.

The paper ceiling doesn’t just hurt the 50% of the US workforce that lacks a four-year degree — it also hamstrings US businesses, many of which have been struggling with severe labor shortages. In July, job openings rebounded back to two for every unemployed person. Meanwhile, college enrollment is dropping. That’s a tough combination for many employers, as nearly 70% of new jobs come with degree requirements.