When young people do things that confound the rest of the country—like take forever to find their own place, delay marriage, stop having kids, stuff like that—some analysts turn to young-adult psychology or brain-destroying technology for an explanation.

There’s a better (albeit less sexy) story. More young people are grabbing debt to go to college, but they can’t punch the ticket to full-fledged adulthood, because college-grad wages are growing at historically pitiful levels. In fact, the incomes of recent college grads are growing so glacially that they make the rest of the country look like we’re discovering $100 bills in our coat jackets every morning.

College-grad wages hit a wall. Why?

Perhaps the most obvious—and most commonly offered—explanation is that the recession has forced the entire youth generation to become a collective of baristas, fast-food workers, part-time artists, and otherwise “under-employed” people. (Under-employed typically means working at a job that requires less than your education.)

This explanation isn’t merely incomplete. It’s almost certainly wrong. The share of recent college grads who are under-employed is higher than normal, but it’s not that much higher than the long-term average.

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