Many Young Workers Are Seeing Their Careers Stalled by the Recession


“Where did all the good jobs go?” That’s a refrain being heard more and more lately, as today’s young workers struggle to find the kinds of jobs that jump-started careers for previous generations.

If you’re between the ages of 22 and 25 and recently graduated from college, chances are you’ve been confronted by some very frustrating economic trends. In all likelihood, you know someone who has faced unemployment or underemployment since graduating from college – or perhaps you’re facing these things yourself.

While many college grads are getting jobs, those jobs may not be the ones they were hoping for. In fact, they may not even be in their preferred field. Below, we’ll take a look at the data behind this trend and explore options for frustrated young professionals.

Post-2009 Grads Are Having a Tough Time

When the global economy was rocked by the financial crisis and stock market crash of 2008, no one knew how far-reaching the effects would be. The very bottom of the recession was in the spring of 2009, just as the Class of 2009 was preparing to graduate. Unfortunately, the lingering effects of the recession have made it very difficult for them (and subsequent graduates).

At this point, six years after the beginning of the recession, we have data showing clearly that recent grads are facing a tougher job market than anyone in the last two decades. The graph below is from a report by the New York Fed showing how 2009-2011 grads are faring compared to their counterparts from the 1990’s and early 2000’s:

College grad unemployment rate graph

Among college grads age 22 or 23 who graduated between 2009 and 2011, the unemployment rate is above 8%, about twice what it was for similar graduates in the preceding years.

But as worrisome as that number may be, it doesn’t even tell the whole story. The truth is that many young workers are not counted among the unemployed because they’ve taken jobs – just not the kind of jobs they were hoping to get with a college education. This phenomena is referred to as “underemployment” and amazingly, some data suggests that as many as 40% of recent grads could be underemployed. This graph, taken from the same New York Fed report mentioned above, shows the rates of underemployment for each segment of college grads:

College grad underemployment rate graph

With underemployment rates for 22- and 23-year old grads apparently hovering above 50%, and rates for other recent grads not looking much better, the situation looks grim. However, the good news is that there are things that young workers can do to overcome these trends and increase their chances of getting a job that puts them on track for a strong future career.

Actions for Young Workers to Take in This Economy

If you’re a young professional (or anyone, really) who’s looking to improve your career prospects, here are some actions you can take to help reach your goals sooner:

Be creative in your networking — While the word “networking” sometimes has bad connotations, the fact is it’s a vital part of your pursuit of career goals – or at least, it should be. It’s gotten even more important in the digital age, because anyone can reach out to anyone else and personal relationships (with people you’ve met in person) carry vastly more weight than digital ones. Read our post about How to Network on a Budget and get out there!

Be purposeful about your goals — Sometimes when you’re out looking for a job (or a better one) it can be all too easy to jump at any opportunity you find. And sometimes that’s a good idea. But in the long run, your path can be dramatically shaped by decisions you make early in life, so take the time to think about all new opportunities carefully and consider both the pros and cons of each one. Only if you are convinced that an opportunity will help you get closer to your goals should you jump at it. For more, read our post titled How to Find a Career That Is Right for You.

Do your research — The internet makes it possible to find tons of opportunities. While competition for jobs can be fierce, you might be able to find a paid internship or training program in your field by scouring industry message boards or blogs. You can also learn about the qualifications and experience that are sought by employers in your field. For more ideas on the job search and much more, check out our Career Tips resource center.

And remember, if you’re unemployed, underemployed, or struggling financially, you can still be proactive with your finances. You’ll get through the rough patches and find the job and career that you’ll love. In the meantime, let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or if you can share any other resources that may be helpful to our readers.

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