College Graduates Struggle to Find Employment Worth a Degree

Thursday, 05 Jun 2014 08:19 AM

 

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This year’s college graduates will have to be more creative to land a job they want.

The unemployment rate for college graduates ages 22 to 27 fell to 5.6 percent in 2013 from 6.4 percent at the recession’s peak in 2009. Among 22-year-old degree holders who found jobs in the past three years, more than half were in roles not requiring a college diploma, said John Schmitt, a labor economist for the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.

Many graduates have traveled nontraditional pathways to find employment in their desired fields. Rory Molleda, 22, started an unpaid internship at Washington’s D.C. United soccer team a week after finishing Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, a year ago.

Forty job applications later, he networked his way to a paid position at another company that wasn’t exactly what he wanted. In January, he landed his “dream job” as a team operations coordinator for D.C. United and said he feels lucky.

“One friend had to move to Idaho after applying to 120 jobs,” said Molleda, who lives with his parents in northern Virginia. The friend found a position as a newspaper reporter and has since moved to Oregon for a different job, Molleda said.

Almost five years into the recovery, the young and educated are settling for jobs they wouldn’t have accepted a decade ago, said Kevin Scott, an Atlanta-based consultant who works with employers.

Buyer’s Market

“While graduates today are more likely to get jobs, they’re unlikely to get a job that they are qualified for or in their area of expertise,” said Scott, whose company is called Addo Institute. “Because it’s such a buyer’s market for employers, they get graduates who will work for less money and for more hours.”

Young people are also getting off to a slower start. They are delaying homeownership and some big-ticket purchases because of student debt and underemployment. Student-loan borrowers retreated from homebuying in 2013 for the second year in a row, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said last month. Young adults without student debt have a net worth that’s seven times higher than those who do, a report from Pew Research showed.

“They’ve done exactly the right thing. They have the right skills,” Schmitt said. “It’s not a slam dunk that you will come out after college in better shape than before you went. On average you do a lot better.”

In Demand

Still, many graduates are finding jobs in their career fields, particularly in high-demand areas such as engineering and education, according to the New York Fed’s analysis of Census Bureau data.

At Syracuse University, 63 percent of graduates found full- time work in 2012, up from 60 percent in 2010. Ninety-one percent of those reported working in roles related to their career goals, compared with 87 percent in 2010.

“We’re just inching forward each year, getting a little bit better,” said Mike Cahill, director of career services. “We’ve made some steady but small gains over the last five years.”

Salaries have stayed fairly steady over that time, though Cahill said he’s starting to see some increase.

Facing limited prospects, graduates are finding they have to seek alternative ways to land a position that suits them.

After graduating from Syracuse last month, Emily Pompelia, 22, decided to take a 10-week paid internship with a Washington consulting firm rather than pursue a permanent position at companies that she said interested her less. Her friends have similar sentiments.

Job Hunting

“We’re willing to do whatever it takes to get a job right now, because we know that it’s competitive,” said Pompelia, from Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

One metric that is rising is average student debt. Graduates of the class of 2012 who took loans for bachelor’s degrees owed an average of $29,400, according to the Institute for College Access & Success, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit group. The level of debt represents an average annual increase of 6 percent from the $23,450 incurred by borrowers who graduated in 2008.

The hiring picture for recent graduates is rosier than when Anna Marie Smith, now 27, graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina in May 2009.

After six months of seeking employment, she found work with a nonprofit group in Houston without health insurance or a retirement savings plan. She was laid off 18 months later and ended up doing admissions work at Rice University. After about two years, she opted for graduate school in New York.

Smith held several part-time jobs before finding a position with a college admission consulting and tutoring company, where she still works. It allowed her to complete a master’s of fine arts in design criticism at night. After graduating last month, her debt is now more than $40,000. She said she hopes to find work writing about design, architecture and urban planning.

“Some of my job choices have been more out of desperation and to pay the bills,” Smith said. “Finding a job that gets you the income you need and the type of career you want is a luxury for people my age.”


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