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The Young and The Jobless: Unemployment Woes Continue Among Youths

5 years ago
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With the new year upon us, a fresh batch of college students who have just finished their studies will enter the work force. They arrive at a time when they have significantly lower chances of finding employment than their older counterparts had, and when the outlook for the coming months is extremely bleak.

In November (the most recent data available from the Labor Department), the total unemployment rate for all 20- to 24-year-olds rose to 16 percent, almost double that of everyone older than them. The jobless rate for those 25 and up inched up to 8.5 percent. The national unemployment rate was last measured at 10 percent.

For young people without a college degree, the prospects are especially grim. The November unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-old high school graduates (without any college schoolwork) was 23.3 percent, and 33.5 percent for those without a high school diploma.

The numbers convey a dire situation, but you don't have to share the data with recent graduates and other young people -- they know all too well what the job market looks like, and that odds aren't looking up anytime soon.

Tracey Janesheski, a 22-year-old who graduated from the University of Notre Dame last spring, couldn't find any work in her field after graduation and ended up with a reception-type job. It's not what she had in mind, and now she's looking for other opportunities.

Janesheski, who has a degree in American Studies and worked in alumni relations as an undergraduate, said she used online job boards, Notre Dame's career center and various staffing agencies to look for work. She started by looking for administrative positions within the non-profit sector, specifically higher education. She applied to over 70 jobs, sent resumes around, and had 14 separate interviews. After three months on the hunt, she took the first job she was offered.

"It came to a point where I was exasperated with my state of affairs, tired of hearing that the position was given to someone more qualified or that I was the second choice after interviewing," she said, settling for the desk job in admissions at a school in Boston.

She said it became clear very early on that the job market was "completely flooded with applicants, and the jobs I was qualified for . . . were being offered to people who were over-qualified but also needed a job."

Jackie Dineen, who also graduated from Notre Dame last May and has struggled to find a full-time job, said the same: she feels like she needs to be over-qualified if she wants her resume to even be looked at.

By most standards Dineen is already over-qualified for many of the jobs for which she's applying. She graduated magna cum laude from a top-20 university with degrees in anthropology and theater and studied abroad in London. Janesheski also has strong credentials, graduating with five years of work experience and a high GPA. They and many of their jobless peers do not lack polished resumes.

But employers are simply not hiring -- at least not very much yet -- and young recruits are being hit hardest.

BusinessWeek examined the issue in October and reported that employers are moving cautiously when it comes to hiring and firing, and older workers are treading carefully as well. Conventional wisdom says employers would prefer to hire young people on the cheap and fire expensive old timers, but when existing employees don't leave and firings don't produce any openings, many employers refuse to even look at resumes from young recruits. As a result, the number of college students who are finishing school without a job in hand is growing.

Nationwide, less than 20 percent of 2009 graduates had secured employment upon graduation, down from over 50 percent in 2007, according to a survey of graduates from over 500 colleges by the National Association for Colleges and Employers (NACE). The Class of 2010 may have an even harder time landing a job: NACE reported earlier this fall that employers expect to hire 7 percent fewer graduates in 2010 than 2009.

"I think a lot of recent graduates had a rude awakening when they realized that their initial post-graduation plan was no longer an option," Janesheski said of the inability of many students to find the jobs they wanted.

It shouldn't be surprising, then, that graduates are shifting away from the private sector and examining other options. Last year's seniors increasingly chose to take jobs with with government or nonprofits, or to enter graduate school, as opposed to entering the private sector.

NACE reported that of the Class of 2009, 39 percent said they planned to work in the private sector (compared to 45 percent the previous year). The number of students going on to graduate or professional programs increased to 26 percent in 2009 (from 24 percent in 2008), as did the number going into government (10 percent in 2009 compared to 8.9 percent in 2008) as well as nonprofit work (17 percent in 2009, 14 percent in 2008).

Students are also looking to graduate school or professional school and volunteer-service programs instead of taking full-time jobs. Janesheski said a number of her friends went to graduate school or went into one- or two-year service programs, simply because they didn't know what else to do.

Outside of service programs and more schooling, many graduates are taking short-term internships and part-time jobs to gain experience or just to pay the bills.

Dineen, after starting an unpaid internship at a Pittsburgh theater, said she was forced to start waitressing so she could pay insurance and student loan bills. While living at home with her parents, she worked 50 to 60 hours a week between the two jobs, leaving no time to search for full-time jobs for when her internship ends.

"I never had enough time and energy to dedicate to searching for jobs and then tailoring my cover letters and resumes to the position," she said. So she saved up enough money to pay for two months of bills and quit waitressing to spend more time on the job search. She's still applying for jobs.

So is Charlie Vogelheim, another Notre Dame graduate, who has done a variety of different things since graduating last May, including helping raise chickens in his back yard.

His family bought the hens this summer after Vogelheim's two-month stint as an unpaid field research assistant in Australia was over. Now, in his Southern California back yard, he's helping raise the animals for their eggs, among a handful of other household jobs.

Vogelheim, an environmental science major, said he thinks there are still probably opportunities for someone with his background in this economy, but he is having trouble finding them. He's still trying to determine exactly what type of work he wants and whether he needs more education -- a determination which is probably exacerbated by the tough job market.

In the meantime, the anxiety over being jobless without much real direction has driven him to consider alternatives outside regular employment or schooling so he can put his mind to rest and find something worthwhile to do.

"I'm looking into doing a year or two of service and for once stop worrying about mostly myself," he said.
Filed Under: The Cram

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