07/15/2011 06:36 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2011

Recent Grads Search For Jobs, To No Avail

NEW YORK -- Leah Fightmaster is growing restless.

After graduating last month from Ohio University, Fightmaster, 22, moved back in with her parents. Twenty job applications and one-and-a-half interviews later, she has yet to land even one job offer.

Also hanging over Fightmaster’s head is $70,000 in student loan debt. While the loan repayments don't kick in until December, the longer she’s out of work, the more she panics.

“I can’t even find a part-time job at Panera,” said Fightmaster, who graduated with a degree in journalism. For even an entry-level position, she says employers require a minimum of two years of work experience. “I have a college degree. I thought I’d at least be qualified to get some type of job.”

She’s hardly alone in her struggle to find work. In particular, recent graduates are entering a job market that shows little sign of improvement, whether for seasonal employment or full-time work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20-somethings have been especially hard hit. For workers under the age of 30, 12.8 percent are jobless, compared with 9.2 percent of the workforce as whole.

“This isn’t temporary -- this has been going on for years now,” said Andrew Sum, an economist who is the director of Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies. “Recent college grads need two years of strong, steady growth in order to turn this ship around.”

Yesterday, Sum and his colleague, Ishwar Khatiwada, pored over the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the first six months of this year.

For young bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25, only 47 out of every 100 are working in jobs that require a college degree. And 26 out of every 100 are without work entirely.

In particular, Sum questions the wisdom of a recent argument stating that college ultimately pays off, even for those graduates who don’t wind up translating their degrees into jobs that require them.

Sum and Khatiwada found that a recent college graduate working as a waitress, cashier, or bartender, for instance, earned an average of $400 a week. A high school graduate in the same position typically earns an average of $360 a week -- a difference of $40.

“For $40, your college investment is worth zero. The amount you earn is so small you could never justify going to college,” said Sum, who is concerned with the proliferation of graduates entering the job market with huge amounts of debt and few prospects for decent employment. “Essentially, if you can get a college labor market job, college is a great investment. But if you can’t, it’s really not.”

While Eric Hammond still believes his college degree was worth it, he has yet to figure out how it will translate into a job.

Since graduating in May from the University of Kansas with a degree in strategic communication, Hammond, 22, is indefinitely waiting tables until he finds something better.

But with $35,000 in student loan debt and few prospects in sight, Hammond is moving back in with his dad to save some money. Meanwhile, he continues putting out feelers for any job opening in either advertising or marketing.

“I knew it was going to be a lot of work and nothing was going to fall into my lap, but I guess I just assumed I’d run into a few more opportunities along the way,” said Hammond. “I guess the degree still gets me in the door, but as far as I can tell, it’s all pretty much about who you know."