Will Job Gains Reach New College Grads?

The Great Recession put the value of college educations in harsh perspective. With a tough economic reality only made worse by the ever-increasing cost of higher education and saturated job market, a college degree began to look like a burdensome investment with limited payoffs. Even two years after the recession officially ended, 22.4 percent of all 2009 college graduates were not working, and 22.0 percent of those that were working had jobs that did not require a college degree. But the employment picture for college graduates this spring will brighter than it has been at any other time since the economic downturn began in 2007.

Economic recovery has been both sluggish and uneven, but employers expect to hire 2.1 percent more new college graduates than they did a year ago, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a professional association of college career service personnel and business recruiters. As one would expect, the strongest sectors for employment opportunities are science, technology, and healthcare.

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“The jobs picture is fairly straightforward: There are more job opportunities this year for graduates than there were last year, and there were more last year than the year before that,” Creighton University economics professor Ernie Goss told the Des Moines Register.

Adding a rosy tint to the current job outlook for college graduates is the fact that unemployment for this portion of the U.S. population is dropping. Unemployment for 2012 graduates — defined as 20-24 years old — was 6.3 percent, down from the 8.3 percent for 2011 college graduates and the 9.4 percent for 2010 graduates, according to the Department of Labor Statistics.

Still, the labor market outlook for new and recent graduates is far from stable. Despite the upswing in new claims for unemployment benefits reported in recent weeks and the disappointing number of jobs created by the U.S. economy in March, numbers show that the overall employment picture is improving — or at least not getting worse. However, even as the labor market inches forward, new college graduates are still finding it difficult to get work. After all, a 2.1 percent increase in expected hiring is not a large gain, especially considering that NACE initially projected a 13 percent hiring rate for 2013. Even more concerning is the fact that the class of 2013 will likely earn less over the next 10 to 15 years than they would have before the recession hit and jobs were more plentiful, noted the Economic Policy Institute.

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One reason for the low level of employment in recent college graduates is that many employers do not believe they are trained properly. A survey of 500 hiring managers by the recruitment firm Adecco found that a majority of employers, 66 percent, think new college graduates are not prepared for the workforce after leaving college. Furthermore, 58 percent said they had no plans to hire entry-level graduates this year.

“Businesses want people in a chosen field but they also want people who can read and write and who are cultural literate,” Jonathan Hill, an associate dean for special programs and projects at Pace University, told CNBC.

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