09/24/2012 05:30 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2012

Young Workers' Salaries Continue To Decline

WASHINGTON -- Salaries for recent college graduates declined in 2011 for the sixth year in a row, another bleak indicator of how tough the Great Recession has been for young workers.

Data analyzed by the Progressive Policy Institute reveal that college grads from ages 25 to 34, working full time, earned an average of $54,500 in 2011 -- about 15 percent less than in 2005. The drop is equivalent to about $10,000 in salary adjusted for inflation.

The survey comes as a rising number of students and their families questionwhether the high cost of college is worth it. A 2012 Pew study found that only 55 percent of those with undergraduate degrees felt that college helped prepare them for a job.

Part of the reason for this is that middle-skill positions, like white collar sales representatives and entry-level analysts, were some of the first to disappear when the economy collapsed in 2008. That forced recent graduates to take lower-skill jobs, such as customer service or low-skilled health industry positions. Those positions would likely have gone to people with high school degrees in a stronger economy.

The overall effect of the trend has been to depress wages for young people. Still, young professionals in some cities are happier than those elsewhere, according to a new survey from

After surveying 38,000 employees with 10 years or less of workplace experience, the site ranked the top 20 "Happiest U.S. Cities for Young Professionals."

Not surprisingly, an outsized number of the top 20 are located in California, where high-tech employers offer relatively high starting salaries and workplace flexibility.

There were some surprises, too. Mid-sized cities like Indianapolis, and Irving, Texas, beat major urban centers like New York and Miami. And some cities that have traditionally drawn high numbers of college grads, including Chicago and Washington, didn't make the list at all.

“We have cities ranking higher, even though some are paying less, because they offer a happier life for employees who chose to live and work there," said co-founder Heidi Golledge in a statement.

The site said its rankings were based on 10 factors: work-life balance, compensation, company culture, overall work environment, company reputation, relationships with managers and co-workers, opportunities for growth, job resources, daily tasks, and job autonomy.

LOOK to find out which U.S. cities have the happiest young professionals.



Top 20 Happiest U.S. Cities for Young Professionals