LA CROSSE, Wis. -- About 600 UW-L graduates donned their caps and gowns, shook the chancellor's hand and received their hard-earned diplomas Sunday morning. But as they stepped off that stage, for many, it's unclear what comes next.
Not only are students graduating into a tough economy, they are also facing a wage gap between the genders. But it's different than the one we're used to hearing about. Young women today are making more than their moms did back in 1980, and by comparison, young men are making less than their fathers did.
Years of studying, paper writing and exam-taking have all led up to this moment: Graduation Day.
"I feel quite excited, a little nervous. But I'm really looking forward to seeing what the next chapter of my life will bring,” said graduating UW-L student Rebecca McHugh.
But after the brassy tune of "Pomp and Circumstance" fades, where does she go from here? Like many young people trying to break into the workforce, the answer for Rebecca McHugh is unclear. She's still applying for jobs and hoping she won't have to move back home.
"After living away for four-and-a-half years, it's very difficult to be under their supervision again. I'm ready to be out on my own," said McHugh.
And when she does land that first job, she expects to make more than her mom did when she started out.
"I'm hoping to start at between $20,000 and $30,000 a year...It's definitely a little more than she made right at first."
Turns out, she's probably right. A new study shows that for every dollar their moms made, today's young women make $1.17. But when it comes to young men, they make just 90 cents for every dollar their dads made.
"Women now are more likely to enroll in college and graduate from college than men are. So those educational gains have made big wage gains as well. Because with a college degree, a lot more job possibilities open up and they tend to be the better-paying job possibilities," said UW-L Economics Professor Mike Haupert.
He says it's even harder for young men who are not college-educated. Blue-collar, male-dominated industries like manufacturing have been hit hard by globalization.
"They've been exported. And if they do exist here, they have to pay lower wages in order to compete with a global workforce," said Prof. Haupert.
College degree or not, male or female, one thing is for sure: This isn't your mom and dad's job market.
UW-L Economics Professor Mike Haupert says this reverse gender gap when it comes to wages among young people might not be the case in the long run. He says married men tend to make more money than married women. That's because married women tend to prioritize jobs with greater flexibility in hours so they can spend more time with their children. Those jobs usually pay less.