Hadley Heath

Move-in day has come and gone at college campuses nationwide. Teary-eyed mothers have gone home, leaving nervous freshmen to fend for themselves. But a harsher reality awaits students on the other side of their four years of collegiate study: the “real world.” And the real world of today is not kind to college graduates. Many college seniors will attend job fairs this fall; if trends continue, few will find work next spring.

Between April and July of 2011, the number of employed 16- to 24-year-olds increased by 1.7 million. At the same time though, the youth labor force grew by 2.4 million, as students finished school and began to look for summer jobs and graduates sought permanent work. The result is that only 48.8 percent of young people were employed this July, a record low for that month (since BLS started measuring this statistic in 1948).

Youth typically face higher unemployment rates than the rest of the population. For example, in July 2000, 9.2 percent of youths were unemployed, compared to 4.0 percent of the general population. This makes sense: These workers have the least experience and fewest connections. But these days, with the national unemployment rate at about 9 percent and youth unemployment at a staggering 18.1 percent, young people are in a particularly sticky situation.

Employers simply aren't hiring. Most feel they can’t afford to take risks on young talent while they face uncertainty about the economy, as well as taxes, regulations, and health care costs.

Unpaid internships abound, and many youth find themselves underemployed in jobs they are overqualified for, or in part-time jobs or contracted work. The recent-grad resume is often a collage of three months here, three months there – much of the work unpaid, or at least unreported. A lot of students who never planned on graduate school will enroll this fall, hoping in another few years the economy, and job prospects, will improve.

This is an ugly picture, but it’s the reality of what’s going on today. And given the policy choices being made in Washington, many grads fear that things won’t be getting better any time soon.

Hadley Heath

Hadley Heath is a Policy Analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum.