Bad job market stalls a generation

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 7, 2011 - 7:40 AM

The labor pinch is hitting young adults hard, leaving many unemployed or underemployed.

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Ashley Cassidy works the sale floor of Pier 1 Imports store in Maple Grove. She has a masters in communication but is unable to find work in her field of study.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Ashley Cassidy has spent most of her career trying to find a way to support herself without her parents' help.

So far, it hasn't been easy.

Cassidy has returned home twice after earning college degrees. She moved back after graduating from St. Cloud State University in 2008, the year the financial crisis hit. In May, she re-entered the job market with a master's degree in mass communication, only to find herself back in her old room in Brooklyn Park.

"I just didn't know how bad or stressful it would be to try and find a job in this market," said Cassidy, 26.

For most young adults, the only jobs market they know is the one shaped by the Great Recession. Unemployment for 20- to 24-year-olds is about 14.9 percent, still well above the national average of 9.1 percent. That doesn't allow young workers to think much about the job they want, just the job they can get. And if they live on their own, it's often with roommates.

The economic impact extends well beyond mom and dad's wallet. With young adults struggling to live independently, household spending is diminished as fewer new households are being created. As a result, less need exists for furniture, appliances and a variety of services.

"Job formation helps determine household formation," said Maury Harris, chief U.S. economist for UBS Securities.

From March 2009 to March 2010, the number of new households in the United States was the lowest on record. The plight of younger workers played a large part in the downturn of households, as families were forced to consolidate.

When the housing market collapsed and waves of job losses followed, many of today's new job seekers were still in school. Since then, unemployment for workers 20 to 34 years old has roughly doubled.

The reality check has been felt in a number of ways. Only two of five college graduates who applied for a job this year received an offer, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. In 2007, the figure was more than three in five.

Kacey Wyttenhove, a Luther College graduate, feels the pinch. She's lived at home while searching for a full-time job in business management or communications.

"I have been talking to all of my friends, and it takes a long time," said Wyttenhove, 22, who works at Caribou Coffee and has an unpaid internship.

Underemployed

For young adults with only high school diplomas, the situation is more dire. Their jobless rate reached 18.8 percent in June. Even in a dour economy, the numbers clearly show that education improves your employment outlook, said Steve Hine, director of Minnesota's Labor Market Information Office. But, he added, the data are likely to mask underemployment that may be occurring with people with college degrees.

"They may be employed but in jobs that are well under their skill level or might be part time," he said.

Cassidy aptly fits the "underemployed" description. She works part time at Pier 1 to bring in some income and juggled two unpaid marketing internships to gain professional experience. She spends the rest of the time looking for a full-time job and the independence she hopes will follow eventually.

"When I do find a job, I know my plans are not to get a house right away," she said. "I would like to start payments on my [college] loans and start saving as well to have a base."

Jim Kwapick, district director for employment agency Robert Half International, said he sees more college graduates in their early 20s turning to temporary employment agencies for help.

"We have had success in this market helping new or fairly new college grads in securing temporary assignments that have converted to regular or full-time employment," Kwapick said. But the conversion rate is still somewhat low because employers remain uncertain about the economy, he added.

For younger workers, hiring success stories typically are more a product of luck and perseverance than outside help.

State agencies, for example, are not set up to help young, educated people find their first professional job, said Jeff Ambroz, spokesman for the job servicing agency HIRED in Minneapolis. Most state programs are designed to help low-income job hunters.

"There is really a gap in services for college graduates who are looking to get into the workforce," Ambroz said. "No one really helps them besides their colleges. And I know the services they get there are really limited."

'Don't stop looking'

Some young adults make adjustments beyond living at home or playing the waiting game.

Adam Pribyl graduated last year from St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., hoping to become a social studies teacher. Yes, he heard the warnings about a weak job market for teachers, but he still wanted to try -- especially after a fun stint at student teaching.

By May, Pribyl was back at his high school summer job at Jim Lupient Water Park in Minneapolis. He kept busy cranking out teacher applications, but got no response. "I started to panic," he said. "I did not want to be a college grad that moves back home with his parents."

Pribyl had a breakthrough last month, and it came with a twist. The University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis hired him to work with chemically dependent teens. Not exactly social studies, but the job has benefits and allows Pribyl to live on his own.

"I love the work I do," he said. "I am not doing conventional teaching, but in my own way, I am teaching and affecting teens in a positive way."

Wyttenhove, the Luther College grad working at Caribou, just found a full-time job through a friend. She starts this month in the human resources department of Teachers on Call, which works with substitute teachers. Not the outcome she expected, but unlike her marketing internship, this job comes with a salary.

"I'll be getting experience, and that is always the tough part after you finish school," Wyttenhove said.

Just don't expect her to give up her gig at Caribou Coffee. Or her internship. Working multiple jobs offers some insurance. "Don't stop looking, and look in unexpected places," she tells friends.

And that's what Nick Blanco did.

Blanco, now 23, played rugby and soccer and studied economics at St. John's University before graduating last year. Unlike many of his brethren, he found a "cubicle-desk job" at a legal services firm. But it wasn't the job he was hoping to get. So he quit this spring and looked beyond the Twin Cities.

Today, Blanco guts fish, cuts spruce trees, builds sheds and guides fishermen for a lodge on Kodiak Island, Alaska. He's making $500 a month less than he did in Minneapolis, but he's happy and inspired by the breathtaking views.

"I have made the concessions with regard to income for the sake of doing something I enjoy," Blanco said.

While he loves the job, he realizes that it may not last for long. With Alaska's seasonal economy, he said it might not be long before he finds himself back home in Minnesota -- and looking for a job.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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