1 In 2 New Graduates Are Jobless Or Underemployed

college graduates can't find jobsBy Hope Yen

WASHINGTON -- The college class of 2012 is in for a rude welcome to the world of work.

A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don't fully use their skills and knowledge.

Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs -- waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example -- and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans.

An analysis of government data conducted for The Associated Press lays bare the highly uneven prospects for holders of bachelor's degrees.

Opportunities for college graduates vary widely.

While there's strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder. Median wages for those with bachelor's degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating midlevel jobs such as bank tellers. Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.

Taking underemployment into consideration, the job prospects for bachelor's degree holders fell last year to the lowest level in more than a decade.

"I don't even know what I'm looking for," says Michael Bledsoe, pictured at left, who described months of fruitless job searches as he served customers at a Seattle coffeehouse. The 23-year-old graduated in 2010 with a creative writing degree.

Initially hopeful that his college education would create opportunities, Bledsoe languished for three months before finally taking a job as a barista, a position he has held for the last two years. In the beginning he sent three or four resumes day. But, Bledsoe said, employers questioned his lack of experience or the practical worth of his major. Now he sends a resume once every two weeks or so.

Bledsoe, currently making just above minimum wage, says he got financial help from his parents to help pay off student loans. He is now mulling whether to go to graduate school, seeing few other options to advance his career. "There is not much out there, it seems," he said.

His situation highlights a widening but little-discussed labor problem. Perhaps more than ever, the choices that young adults make earlier in life -- level of schooling, academic field and training, where to attend college, how to pay for it -- are having long-lasting financial impact.

"You can make more money on average if you go to college, but it's not true for everybody," says Harvard economist Richard Freeman, noting the growing risk of a debt bubble with total U.S. student loan debt surpassing $1 trillion. "If you're not sure what you're going to be doing, it probably bodes well to take some job, if you can get one, and get a sense first of what you want from college."

Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University who analyzed the numbers, said many people with a bachelor's degree face a double whammy of rising tuition and poor job outcomes. "Simply put, we're failing kids coming out of college," he said, emphasizing that when it comes to jobs, a college major can make all the difference. "We're going to need a lot better job growth and connections to the labor market, otherwise college debt will grow."

By region, the Mountain West was most likely to have young college graduates jobless or underemployed -- roughly 3 in 5. It was followed by the more rural southeastern U.S., including Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. The Pacific region, including Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, also was high on the list.

On the other end of the scale, the southern U.S., anchored by Texas, was most likely to have young college graduates in higher-skill jobs.

The figures are based on an analysis of 2011 Current Population Survey data by Northeastern University researchers and supplemented with material from Paul Harrington, an economist at Drexel University, and the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank. They rely on Labor Department assessments of the level of education required to do the job in 900-plus U.S. occupations, which were used to calculate the shares of young adults with bachelor's degrees who were "underemployed."

About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. In 2000, the share was at a low of 41 percent, before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and IT fields.

Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year.

Broken down by occupation, young college graduates were heavily represented in jobs that require a high school diploma or less.

In the last year, they were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined (100,000 versus 90,000). There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionist or payroll clerk than in all computer professional jobs (163,000 versus 100,000). More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000).

According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor's degree or higher to fill the position - teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren't easily replaced by computers.

College graduates who majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities were among the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their education level; those with nursing, teaching, accounting or computer science degrees were among the most likely.

In Nevada, where unemployment is the highest in the nation, Class of 2012 college seniors recently expressed feelings ranging from anxiety and fear to cautious optimism about what lies ahead.

With the state's economy languishing in an extended housing bust, a lot of young graduates have shown up at job placement centers in tears. Many have been squeezed out of jobs by more experienced workers, job counselors said, and are now having to explain to prospective employers the time gaps in their resumes.

"It's kind of scary," said Cameron Bawden, 22, who is graduating from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in December with a business degree. His family has warned him for years about the job market, so he has been building his resume by working part time on the Las Vegas Strip as a food runner and doing a marketing internship with a local airline.

Bawden said his friends who have graduated are either unemployed or working along the Vegas Strip in service jobs that don't require degrees. "There are so few jobs and it's a small city," he said. "It's all about who you know."

Any job gains are going mostly to workers at the top and bottom of the wage scale, at the expense of middle-income jobs commonly held by bachelor's degree holders. By some studies, up to 95 percent of positions lost during the economic recovery occurred in middle-income occupations such as bank tellers, the type of job not expected to return in a more high-tech age.

David Neumark, an economist at the University of California-Irvine, said a bachelor's degree can have benefits that aren't fully reflected in the government's labor data. He said even for lower-skilled jobs such as waitress or cashier, employers tend to value bachelor's degree-holders more highly than high-school graduates, paying them more for the same work and offering promotions.

In addition, U.S. workers increasingly may need to consider their position in a global economy, where they must compete with educated foreign-born residents for jobs. Longer-term government projections also may fail to consider "degree inflation," a growing ubiquity of bachelor's degrees that could make them more commonplace in lower-wage jobs but inadequate for higher-wage ones.

That future may be now for Kelman Edwards Jr., 24, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., who is waiting to see the returns on his college education.

After earning a biology degree last May, the only job he could find was as a construction worker for five months before he quit to focus on finding a job in his academic field. He applied for positions in laboratories but was told they were looking for people with specialized certifications.

"I thought that me having a biology degree was a gold ticket for me getting into places, but every other job wants you to have previous history in the field," he said. Edwards, who has about $5,500 in student debt, recently met with a career counselor at Middle Tennessee State University. The counselor's main advice: Pursue further education.

"Everyone is always telling you, `Go to college,'" Edwards said. "But when you graduate, it's kind of an empty cliff."

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There was a recent article noting that tech school students were in such demand that some were hired before they graduated. Some of these workers will go back to school to add to their skills so that they can advance.
The machinists, plumbers, electricians etc were once the middle class. If the middle class is the focus, then these are the jobs that people should be trained to do. Not creative writing.
Who was this kids adviser and how much did that person make? I love the part where the current adviser suggests more school. Why didn't the first adviser recommend a worthwhile education?

April 24 2012 at 9:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

One look at this guys piercings and it is obvious why he can't land a job. His college education has nothing to do with it. I would not want him in public view of my customers with an earring in his nose. He may be "stylish" to his generation, but his generation only makes up 10% (if that) of most customer bases.

April 24 2012 at 5:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We are not failing kids coming out of college we have failed them going into college and while attending to complete degrees in college. We allow grade inflated egos to enter college thinking that it is a "God given right and entitlement" that does not require exceptional skills and effort along with personal and financial sacrifice. We allow colleges and students to continue to peruse degree programs that have no chance of producing a graduate that can be employed, but heavily subsidize the experience with tax dollars and tuition. We provide the little collegiate darlings with every amenity know to man, clubs, entertainment, full medical facilities, student unions, and social centers that bleed funds from the focus on academic achievement. We not only allow but encourage students to borrow "student loan" monies far beyond their ability to repay their investment and receive any dividend on their educational investment. Finally, many states give financial assistance through lottery scholarships that send 60% or more of entering students to take a seat in colleges, collect the money, and fail out by the middle of their second year due to lack of academic preparation and no personal investment in the financial investment of their own futures. Those that do not do their homework and select from career/degree choices that will pay them a living, earned merit scholarship, and prepare academically and financially are parasitic on those who do. They are not let down, they simply feel entitled to a future that they have not earned.

April 24 2012 at 5:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No 'government analysis' is necessary. It doesn't take much to figure out that the economy is tanked with zero jobs for anyone, college grads or other.

April 24 2012 at 4:48 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

This is the same scenario I faced when I graduated college 20 years ago--only now it seems far worse than it was at that time. Regardless of the cause of it (and one could debate that from sun-up to sun-down with no conclusion), THIS IS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE AND INEXCUSABLE THAT A NATION THAT SO MANY POWERS-THAT-BE HIGH UP SAY IS "THE RICHEST NATION IN THE WORLD" HAS SO FEW JOB OPPORTUNITIES FOR RECENT COLLEGE GRADUATES. Maybe the U.S. doesn't owe every one of them a job, but it sure owes them a fair opportunity to try for one--and yet that opportunity keeps being diminished left and right. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THIS COUNTRY?!

April 24 2012 at 3:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to banzai115's comment

Opportunity starts at home and in the classroom not in DC!

April 24 2012 at 5:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is the same scenario I faced when I graduated college 20 years ago--only now it seems far worse than it was at that time. Regardless of the cause of it (and one could debate that from sun-up to sun-down with no conclusion), THIS IS TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE AND INEXCUSABLE THAT A NATION THAT SO MANY POWERS-THAT-BE HIGH UP SAY IS "THE RICHEST NATION IN THE WORLD" HAS SO FEW JOB OPPORTUNITIES FOR RECENT COLLEGE GRADUATES. Maybe the U.S. doesn't owe every one of them a job, but it sure owes them a fair opportunity to try for one--and yet that opportunity keeps being diminished left and right. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO THIS COUNTRY?!

April 24 2012 at 3:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
most omnipotent

So basically, they are in the same boat as the rest of us.

April 24 2012 at 1:57 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Donna Kling

Many may fall into the trap of "Unemployed need not apply". If they were able to attend college and not have to work, they are lost before they ever got started. It is happening to thousands of American workers.

My granddaughter was able to land a job in Florida within 3 months of graduating from college partly because she had a job throughout her time in college at Disney World when she was on break. She ran one of the rides. When she graduated, she went back to Orlando and got a job at a maketing firm in the area.

The job market is tough and finding any job can be rough. The current class of graduates could have another black mark against them because of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has left many college students tainted this year and made some employers angry at the whole "college" culture. Unfair, absolutely but it is an employers' market right now and any excuse for not hiring someone will do.

As soon as she graduated, my advice to her was to do freelance, anything to get a foot in the door and have money when time came to start paying off the student loans. A bad credit score will only serve to make getting a job much more difficult.

April 24 2012 at 1:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Lose the facial earrings and maybe someone will hire you!

April 24 2012 at 1:29 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I wouldnt hire kids with nose rings, tatoos and low pants neither...!

April 24 2012 at 1:18 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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