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Jobless College Graduates Struggle Under Ongoing Recession

First Posted: 07/08/2011 5:21 pm Updated: 09/07/2011 5:12 am

This story was reported in collaboration with our partners at Patch.com.

NEW YORK -- Seventy-five job applications. Forty cover letters. Twelve interviews. Zero job offers.

Since graduating from Wellesley College four years ago, Kayla Calkin, 25, has yet to get a break.

In May, Calkin completed a master's degree in public policy from George Washington University. Like so many her age, she believed a graduate degree might guarantee a more stable future.

Calkin now works as a full-time nanny in Washington, D.C., while continuing to scour for an eventual dream job in politics. Her two degrees make her overqualified for even the most basic, entry-level position.

"I guess I'm overqualified to work on Capitol Hill, but I'm not overqualified to watch one-year-olds play in a playground," said Calkin, who tries to remain optimistic despite an uncertain future. "It's a scary, scary time."

Calkin is hardly alone in her quest to find decent work amidst a bleak job market.

According to a report released earlier today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June's unemployment rate ticked steadily higher from 9.1 to 9.2 percent. Combined with a rising jobless rate and news that only 18,000 jobs were added to the economy in the last month, many recent graduates fear the worst is not yet over. For 20-somethings hoping to jumpstart their adult lives, the economic "recovery" is starting to feel endless and euphemistic.

College graduates still fare better than their peers with only a high school diploma, but even their job prospects show signs of fatigue. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey, the unemployment rate for college graduates between the ages of 20 to 24-year-olds soared five percentage points in the past month -- from 7.1 percent in May to 12.1 percent in June, compared with a three percent jump during the same period last year.

"It's terrible. I've never seen a recovery like this," said Andrew Sum, a professor of economics at Northeastern University. Sum is particularly concerned for recent graduates, whose fate depends on strong job growth. He says a minimum of 125,000 jobs must be added each month in order to keep pace with population growth -- a growth requirement approximately seven times larger than the 18,000 jobs added last month.

"Today's report is really bad but last month's was bad and the answer is that this recovery has just come to a grinding halt," said Sum. "There's really no growth happening."

Carl E. Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University recently looked at what happened to college graduates who finished school between 2006 and 2010. Of these, only half found full-time jobs.

Van Horn now worries for the approximately 1.5 million 2011 graduates vying for those same slots.

"You have another class of graduates that are facing not only a difficult labor market but competition from the previous three, four and five years of young graduates also clamoring to find their way into the labor market," said Van Horn. "The continued weak recovery will mean more graduates finding themselves in part-time jobs and contingency jobs and jobs that are far below their level of education."

Sum advises young people in search of work to continue casting a wide net. Van Horn cautions recent graduates to resist the temptation to see graduate school as a guaranteed refuge during rough economic times.

"Not every graduate program leads to a guaranteed job. You likely already have debt and you're going to incur more debt and what's it going to translate into down the road?" asked Van Horn. "While it's okay to major in cultural anthropology, understand that you may not end up as the next Margaret Mead. You may end up as the manager of a
Sports Authority."

Since graduating from the University of Tampa in 2009, Jeff Swederski, 26, is learning to adjust his expectations.

Swederski currently works at a Walgreens in Tampa, Fla., where he alternates work as a photo specialist, cosmetics consultant and pharmacy technician.

"It's a little sad," said Swederski, who owes $60,000 in student loan debt. He also works part-time at a local law firm, filing papers and answering phones. The two jobs are barely enough to make his rent and monthly loan repayments. "The jobs I have -- I certainly didn't need to go to college in order to get them."

An increased debt load is a burden for many job seekers searching for any work they can find.

During more robust economic times, Yvonne Kline, 30, began studying for a Ph.D. in communications. She quickly racked up $138,000 in student loan debt. She still hasn't finished her degree at the University of Southern Florida. And, while her doctoral dissertation is still pending, her loan payments start next month.

Kline is looking for work in human resources, advertising or marketing. In the mean time, she makes ends meet by teaching community college classes in three different counties, and teaching a contortion class for pole dancers at Rock N Body Pole Studios in nearby Bradenton, Fla.

For now, money worries loom above all else. "My loans are coming due this month and I am going to call them and hopefully get it deferred," said Kline. "I am going to be paying that debt off for a very long time. That's not dischargeable debt either -- I can't file bankruptcy and get rid of these loans."

Debt worries aside, many 20-somethings struggle to make a modest, living wage.

Jeffrey Dalrymple, 26, of Westfield, N.J., took on a work-study job at Saint Peter's College library while an undergrad, becoming a library assistant following his graduation in 2008.

Working 32 hours a week at $16,000 a year, the job was seen as a stepping-stone toward an eventual career as a full-time librarian or museum curator.

But unable to secure a better job, Dalrymple remains at Saint Peters -- and without benefits, he's barely scraping by.

"I think a lot of people in my generation have it tough," said Dalrymple. "We are entering into a workforce that is virtually dead. The economy is on the verge of collapse."

Explaining the situation to his parents' generation is an entirely different challenge. Dalrymple can't help but take their reaction personally: "My family sees that it's my fault that I am in the predicament that I am in now."

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