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In the Shadow of the Great Recession: Experiences and Perspectives of
Young Workers

Young Workers' Unemployment

Since the Great Recession, college graduates continue to be employed at greater rates than high school graduates but at far lower rates than historical norms. Young college graduates typically have a strong labor market attachment; by attending and graduating college, they have made a significant down payment on their career in terms of time and money.40 Yet at 85 percent, the employment-to-population ratio of young college graduates has significantly declined from the average of 89 percent over the 1990s business cycle and 87 percent over the 2000s business cycle.41

In the Survey of Young Workers, close to half (48 percent) of respondents who do not have a paid job are seeking paid employment and, therefore, unemployed. Some are not interested in engaging in a paid job because they are attending school (45 percent), caring for family and the home (20 percent), or self-employed (4 percent). Others face barriers to employment including disabilities (7 percent), health issues (3 percent), lack of skills and training (4 percent), lack of transportation (3 percent), or a lack of faith in the job market (1 percent).

In the Survey of Young Workers, although the average length of unemployment is 22 weeks, a few respondents who are experiencing very long periods of unemployment skewed the "typical" period of job seeking. The median duration of current unemployment is 10 weeks for the respondents. A relatively small number (10 percent) of unemployed respondents have been in the job search market for a year or more.

Some of the unemployed respondents are optimistic about their search, with 36 percent expecting to find a position in the next three months. A greater percent of job seekers (49 percent) are less optimistic, assuming it will take more than six months or an unknown amount of time to find a job. Only 20 percent of the job seekers had a job interview in the four weeks prior to completing the Survey of Young Workers.

Most of the unemployed respondents have low levels of educational attainment, including 83 percent who have not completed a postsecondary degree. Put another way, 32 percent of those with a high school diploma are unemployed compared with 10 percent of those with a bachelor's degree.

According to a 2012 study by the Heldrich Center, one in three high school graduates reported being unemployed and looking for work.42 The findings reflect recent data from the BLS and Current Population Survey (CPS) that show an average jobless rate of 31 percent from April 2011 to March 2012. At the time of the Heldrich Center studies, those who graduated in the recession era were unemployed at a higher rate (37 percent) than those who graduated before the recession (23 percent).43 In addition, nearly one in five high school graduates were working part time while looking for a full-time job.44

The labor market demands recent job experience as well as education. In the Survey of Young Workers, respondents who lack experience, particularly recent experience, face difficulty finding a job. The greatest numbers of unemployed respondents are coming out of an educational setting (43 percent) or time caring for children or family members at home (24 percent), rather than a previous job. Only 17 percent of the unemployed respondents were most recently in another job.

Unemployed respondents use multiple methods to job search including contacting employers directly (67 percent) and searching electronic job boards (64 percent). The unemployed also use personal networks, including family and friends (51 percent) and parents (36 percent) to search for jobs. Services from employment centers and schools are less popular options at 26 percent and 20 percent, respectively.


40. Shierholz and others, The Class of 2013: Young Graduates Still Face Dim Job ProspectsReturn to text

41. H. Shierholz, N. Sabadish, and H. Wething (2012), The Class of 2012: Labor Market for Young Graduates Remains Grim, Economic Policy Institute briefing paper no. 340 (Washington: EPI, May). Return to text

42. Stone and others, Chasing the American DreamReturn to text

43. Stone and others, Chasing the American Dream.  Return to text

44. Stone and others, Chasing the American Dream.  Return to text

Last update: November 18, 2014

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