Their Disappointment Is Justified



Carl E. Van Horn is professor of public policy and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. The center released a survey last week of college graduates from the classes of 2006 to 2010 titled, “Unfulfilled Expectations: Recent College Graduates Struggle in a Troubled Economy.”


Updated May 25, 2011, 10:03 AM


While college graduates entering the labor market during and immediately after an economic recession always encounter difficulties landing their first job, this recession has presented even greater challenges. The Great Recession — and the lingering high unemployment -- was the deepest and longest downturn in 60 years. The economy shed more than eight million jobs and many millions more were temporarily unemployed. The recovery, which has been under way for over a year, has thus far generated less than 20 percent of the jobs needed to get back to the pre-recession levels of 2007, let alone created enough jobs to accommodate normal labor market growth due to population increases.


New graduates are blocked by young workers who can't move up and are clinging to their entry-level jobs.


Young workers — those who graduated before the recession -- are also clinging on to their entry-level jobs and may be blocking new graduates from getting on the first step of the career ladder. Older workers are also holding fast to their jobs or cannot retire because the value of their homes or retirement savings has eroded. .


Compared with the college graduates of 10 or 20 years ago, the recent college graduates are carrying higher debt levels due to the rising cost of a four-year degree. With an average college debt of $20,000 and median starting salaries of $30,000, graduates from 2006 to 2010 seeking their first jobs will be hard-pressed to pay their bills.


Given the harsh economic realities, it is not surprising that students are pessimistic about their ability to achieve the American dream and do better financially than those who came before them. Since the time these college graduates were very young, their parents, educators and political leaders have told them that getting a college degree is a ticket to success in the knowledge economy. The vast majority of these graduates worked hard to earn their degrees — over 80 percent of students reported that they were working in at least part-time jobs during college and nearly 25 percent said they worked full time. Over 90 percent reported working during the summer months. More than 8 in 10 still must pay back the money they borrowed to pay for their tuition and books.


Now as they enter the world of work during the worst recession in memory, more than half have not be able to get a full-time, salaried job with benefits, nearly half find themselves in jobs that do not even require a college diploma, and nearly one in 10 are unemployed.


Their feelings of unfulfilled expectations are not only understandable, but completely justified.