One of our preferred "off beat" economic indicators is how many workers apply at any one given moment in time for jobs that are hardly considered career-track. An example of this is the number of applicants for minimum wage line cook jobs at McDonalds, or flight attendant positions at Delta Airlines; conveniently, this is a series which we have tracked on and off for the past 7 years.
As regular readers may recall, back in October 2010, the Atlanta-based carrier received 100,000 applications for 1,000 jobs, an "acceptance ratio" of 1.0%. Things appeared to improve modestly in 2012 when Bloomberg reported that Delta had received 22,000 applicants for 300 flight attendant jobs: this pushed the acceptance ratio slightly higher to 1.3%, as by this point the job market had improved somewhat, and there were far better job career options available.
Fast forward to today when things have turned decidedly more grim for the US job market once again, at least based on this one particular indicator. According to CNN, Delta is once again on the hunt for new flight attendants, and has roughly 1,000 open positions for 2018, although this year the competition is virtually unprecedented: so far, Delta has received more than 125,000 applications for this hiring round, which all else equal would result in an acceptance ratio of 0.8%. Note, we said "virtually unprecedented" because this year ratio of applicants to open positions is identical to last year, when 150,000 people applied for 1,200 flight attendant jobs, resulting in an identical, 0.8% acceptance ratio.
So what makes it such a tough gig to land?
"You need to not only be a customer service professional, but also a safety expert," said Ashton Morrow, a Delta spokeswoman.
Political correctness aside, you have to be young, relatively good looking, preferably a female (sorry, sexism does exist)... oh and willing to accept next to minimum wage.
Even so, one would think one is trying to get into Harvard: applicants first submit an application, then chosen candidates submit a video of themselves answering a set of questions. Selected candidates are then asked to come in for an in-person interview. Last year, 35,000 people made it to the video interview part. The candidate pool was then whittled down to 6,000 people for in-person interviews.
The Delta "admissions committee" was happy to chime in:
"After making it through the highly competitive and exhaustive selection process, they put all their previous experience and skills to the test during our flight attendant initial training," said Allison Ausband, Delta's senior vice president of in-flight service, in a release Monday.
Having made it so far through the process, in which the lucky candidate literally has to be better than 99 of their peers, the new hires go through an eight-week training program in Atlanta where they learn how to handle mid-flight emergencies like a fire or a sick passenger. The company describes the training program as "grueling" and that it will "stretch each trainee to the limit" in a video.
Finally, having reached the promised land, what untold wealth and riches await the lucky guy or gal? Well... nothing more than minimum wage: average entry-level flight attendants earn roughly $25,000 a year, according to the company. Wait, that's it? Well, there are perks, such as the increasingly more unaffordable - for most - employee benefits which include health insurance coverage, 401(k) with a company match and a profit-sharing program. Workers also get travel privileges for themselves and family member.
Oh, and once hired, forget about having a personal life: "work-life balance can be tricky for flight attendants early in their careers since they don't have a lot of control over their flight schedules."
For any reader contemplating applying, here are the minimum qualifications:
applicants must be at least 21 years old, have a high school degree or GED and be able to work in the U.S. Flight attendants cannot have any tattoos that are visible while in the company's uniform. Visible body piercings and earlobe plugs are also not allowed.
Putting this entire farcical process, which among other things demonstrates the true state of the US job market, Harvard's acceptance rate for the class of 2021 was 5.2%. In other words, it is 6.5x times (round it up) easier to enter Harvard than to get a job at Delta. As an attendant. And there is your jobs supply-demand reality in one snapshot.
P.S. it is somewhat easier to get the desired job if one fits the following physical parameters.