Most High School Grads Desperate For Work, New Study Finds

Since Leighann Neil graduated from high school in 2008, she has struggled to hold onto a permanent job, and has worked as a dispatcher in addition to a gig grinding mortar. She sends out roughly 20 resumes a month for secretarial jobs, but she has yet to hear back from any.

"Employers are looking for someone who has a college degree," says Neil, 23, who has one child and another on the way. They and her child's father live with Neil's mother in Blountsville, Ala.

Neil's struggles have become common among young adults. According to a new survey by Rutgers University, only 30 percent of recent high school graduates not enrolled in further study have a full-time job. Another 23 percent work part-time. The study, of 544 grads from the high school classes of 2006 through 2011, found that even those with jobs are probably just eking out an existence -- their average hourly pay is $9.25, only $2 above the federal minimum wage.

Those who graduated after the financial crisis hit in 2008 have it much worse; only 16 percent of them have full-time jobs, and only 22 percent work part-time.

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None of the people studied had a post-secondary degree, nor were they enrolled full-time in school.

"The study shows that opportunity is just moving further and further away from people who don't have a post-secondary education," says Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers and the director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, which put together the study. "They really have not entered adulthood."

It has long been a struggle to compete in the workforce with only a high school degree, but that's dramatically worsened afterthe Great Recession. According to research compiled by the Washington D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for high school graduates not enrolled in further schooling nearly doubled, from 17.5 percent in 2007 to 31.1 last year.

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By comparison, the last Heldrich study found that half of the college grads from the classes of 2006 through 2011 had full-time jobs.

Although nearly 1 in 3 high school grads in the Rutgers study has full-time work, that most likely is the result of "personal connections," says Van Horn.

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He says the job market is so punishing that if a high school grad isn't college-bound, he or she is better off working part-time while in high school so as to improve the odds of getting a job upon graduation.

The study did not identify which particularly geographic regions have the highest rate of unemployed high school grads, says Van Horn, but found that unemployment tends to run deepest among minority groups. "There's a lot of evidence that there is a barrier against borrowing among low income people from minority backgrounds," he says. "It's understandable, but in denying themselves [advanced degree], they are being counterproductive."

With the national student loan debt recently surpassing a total of $1 trillion, some like venture capitalist Peter Thiel have begun to question the value of a college degree. But this study suggests that it is still the better choice for the vast majority of teens. Indeed, he notes you are likelier to earn a million dollars over your life if you've completed college than if you haven't.

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Oh, the good old days! With nothing more than a High School education, I started at a large manufacturing company that had just completed a new facility in the area. I traded a cut in pay for the job security and, thanks to it having been a unionized plant, I got generous raises that far eclipsed my former job in record time. After 2 years I became salaried as an Engineering Aide, moving up in another 2 to Quality Control Technician, then to Engineering Technician, and finally Senior Engineering Technician. I was sent to Robotics School when the Automation came in and learned to teach the robots how to perform their jobs. Those were the days when Companies looked at your potential rather than just your educational background. Like I said, the good old days!

June 06 2012 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You can thank minimum wage laws for unemployment among teens. When the cost of an employee is arbitrarily set above the employees value to the employer then the employer is incentivized to do either do the work him/herself or hire someone who will work for cash. What's worse is that the pay alone may exceed the minimum ware because the government and its taxation are uninvolved.

Ask yourself whether you would rather be paid less than minimum wage and eat or hold out for minimum wage and go hungry because potential empoyers cannot afford to hire you.

June 06 2012 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The illegals have all the low skill jobs and most of the blue collar jobs, so what does that leave an entry level employee? They have to choose college or the military. Ridiculous.

June 06 2012 at 2:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to OCgirl's comment

No, what's ridiculous is that government regulations put entry level employees out of too many employers financial reach because the value of the work is less than its cost.

June 06 2012 at 5:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

High School grad's are experiencing difficulties. What about the college graduates? College graduates still don't get it. The Obama administration offers to reduce their loan interest rates and student's continue to buy into it by voting for him. Reduced interest rates on college loan's is great. But hey Axelrod how about offering JOBS, so student's and graduate's alike can pay back their loans. JOBS are what is needed now, not false hope to get students to vote for the wrong reason.

June 06 2012 at 1:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jmearlmic1's comment

If his campaign continues to have difficulties you can be certain that Obama will forgive some or all student debts before November, or at least promise to - remember closing Gitmo. He can do that now you know; he's taken over the student loan business and forbidden any lender to make "student" loans, though I'd bet that a lot of parents are taking out second mortgages by now. If response is positive to that annoucement I think we can count on forgiveness for many of the mortgages held by Fannie and Freddie. If you find a good trick why not use it again?

June 06 2012 at 5:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If INS would do their job, Americans of ALL ages who can't find work would have jobs.

June 06 2012 at 12:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to billv0164's comment

But only if they are willing to work for less the minimum wage with little to no benefits.

June 06 2012 at 5:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Amethystt's comment

Which would you rather have, a company chosen health insurance policy to which you are required to contribute or the money that you and the employer would spend on it? Don't you think that you could find an approptiate policy for you for less than you and your employer pay together? The same goes for retirement funding; would you rather have what your employer gets the best deal on or your own?

Think it through...

June 06 2012 at 5:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

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