Bad News for the Class of 2014

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A new study released this week by the Economic Policy Institute takes a look at the job prospects for students graduating in 2014, and the numbers aren't good.

According to the study, simply titled "The Class of 2014," while employment growth has recovered sluggishly for the nation at large, it has remained borderline catastrophic for young graduates:

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"The weak labor market has been, and continues to be, very tough on young workers: at 14.5%, the March 2014 unemployment rate of workers under age 25 was slightly over twice as high as the overall unemployment rate, 6.7%. Though the labor market is headed in the right direction, it is improving very slowly, and the job prospects for young high school and college graduates remain dim."

To make matters worse, the Class of 2014 reminds readers that "unemployed" only refers to recent graduates who are out of work and looking. Young people who graduate but give up looking for work disappear from the radar, and the EPI estimates that there are over a million such "missing" young people.

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Once they are counted, the level of unemployed recent graduates rises to 18.1%, nearly a fifth of a generation out of work.

That current graduates have it rough is common knowledge, even though the knee jerk reaction by many people is to blame this on a so-called culture of entitlement among young Millennials who study soft sciences and expect easy jobs. The solution, however, is not to simply encourage greater participation in engineering according to the study's authors.

"The current unemployment crisis among young workers did not arise, because today's young adults lack the right education or skills," according to the report. "Rather, it stems from weak demand for goods and services, which makes it unnecessary for employers to significantly ramp up hiring."

Also See: The Millennials: A Dire Generation on its Own and Stuck

The study's authors Heidi Shierholz, Alyssa Davis and Will Kimball point out in particular how few young people voluntarily leave their jobs, as this indicates both greater job insecurity and fewer opportunities for advancement in the market.

It's a staple of contemporary economics that voluntary quitting is a major indicator of job security; if one sector of the economy, such as science or engineering, was outperforming others it would show disproportionate results. Workers would demonstrate greater mobility within those fields, which has not happened.

Behind the blanket statistic young people live in two different worlds, each marked by separate challenges.

High school graduates face staggering unemployment, which has jumped from 15.9% in 2007 to 22.9% today. Nearly one third of all young people with only a high school degree cannot find work of any kind, a statistic which does not include the members of this generation trapped in dead end, poverty level jobs working service sector or retail.

Also See: Are Americans Taking Unemployment Too Seriously

Young college graduates also struggle to find work but to a lesser degree. Approximately 8.5% of college graduates under 25 remain unemployed, making their odds of finding work nearly three times better than their peers who did not pursue higher education. Unfortunately those opportunities come at a price.

College tuition in America has increased over 125% since the mid-1980's. The average income for a middle class family has grown by only 15.6% over that same time period. Families have struggled, and inevitably failed, to keep up with this geometric rate of inflation which has in part been spurred by increasing cutbacks to education funding at the state and federal level.

As a result, 40% of households headed by someone under the age of 35 carry student loans, to the average tune of $26,682. Job prospects for college students may far outstrip high school graduates, but they will begin their adult lives with the equivalent of a small mortgage hanging over their heads.

The consequences of this were not lost on the study's authors, who wrote that "the recent growth in student loan balances and delinquencies [is] accompanied by a decrease in mortgage and auto loan borrowing for younger age groups, suggesting that student loan debt is indeed crowding out other investments."

A racial schism also exists in employment opportunities even when the playing field should be at its most level. According to current numbers, young, black college graduates face a 13% unemployment rate compared to 8% for their white peers. From the study:

"One would think there would be little disparity in the unemployment rates of young college graduates, who have the same basic degree and are in the same labor market position (i.e., college graduates, age 21–24, not enrolled in school, and either employed or actively seeking work). It is notable that having an equivalent amount of higher education and a virtual blank slate of prior professional work experience still does not generate parity in unemployment across races and ethnicities. This suggests other factors may be at play, such as minorities not having equal access to the informal professional networks that often lead to job opportunities, and discrimination against young racial and ethnic minorities."

For those who can get a job, the news gets little better. The quality of work available to recent graduates has either stagnated or declined over the past decade, with employers offering worse positions, fewer opportunities for advancement and reduced benefits to applicants under 25. Nearly half of all graduates work in jobs that don't require a college degree and the generation has seen its wages fall by over 10% in the past decade.

This has created a particular problem for the students graduating in debt, many of whom face or have already entered default.

One surprising result from the survey is to debunk the myth that young people "shelter in school" from the bad economy. The authors write that there is "little evidence" that members of this generation have tried to hide from the job market by getting new degrees, possibly because of the high and growing cost of education. "Increases in college and university enrollment rates between 2007 and 2012 were no greater than before the recession began, and since 2012, college enrollment rates have dropped substantially," they wrote. "This means there has been a large increase in the share of young high school and college graduates who are idled—neither employed nor enrolled in school—by the weak economy. This represents an enormous loss of opportunities for this cohort that will have lasting consequences."

Unfortunately for today's youth, Shierholz, Davis and Kimball mean "lasting consequences" in a very literal way. Young adults that graduate into a bad economy face lower earning potential and greater job instability long after any recovery. Along with student debt forcing many college graduates to defer the trappings of adulthood well into their 30's and many young people starting their careers by stocking shelves at a Walmart, the impact of this economy could ripple through their entire lives.

You can read more from The Class of 2014 at the Economic Policy Institute's website.

--Written for MainStreet by Eric Reed, a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the subjects of career and travel. You can read more of his work at his website www.wanderinglawyer.com.

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