Underemployment exceptionally high for young adults

By Rachel Follender
On November 20, 2012

 

UNH seniors began registering for their spring classes on Monday, creating what for most of these students will be the final schedule of their college careers. As Thanksgiving break plunges us into winter, the new year is only weeks away. And with graduation rearing around the corner, members of the class of 2013 are beginning to ask, "What now?"

For Katie Sousa, a senior English major, life after graduation means returning to a part-time cashier position at Market Basket. 

"I've been there for five years and I plan to go back there until I find something better," she said.

According to a report by Justin Young, a UNH doctoral student in sociology, many graduates will find themselves in the same position as Sousa come springtime. 

Young's report, Underemployment in Urban and Rural America, 2005-2012, was published this fall by UNH's Carsey Institute. Young's research suggests that underemployment is exceptionally high among people under age 30.

Underemployment is defined in the study as involuntary part-time work, which hits 18- to 22-year-olds the hardest. Young's findings show that 29 percent of this age group is either underemployed (10 percent) or unemployed (19 percent). Given his research, Young believes that a college education is a surefire way to break out of the demographic.

"In the past, there were many more jobs that offered good pay, benefits and security that did not require a four-year degree," Young said. "Today, if you want one of those jobs, you are more likely to need a four-year degree, at the very least. Young people today are facing very different job markets than their parents."

Many recent graduates feel that in today's job market, employers are hiring the applicants who have college degrees, even if one is not necessarily required for the job. 

"A lot of businesses are using more and more college graduates to fulfill jobs that most people could do without a four year degree," said Zach Smith, a 2012 graduate of the Whittemore School of Business and Economics. "If I could give one piece of advice to UNH seniors, it would be to develop connections. I really feel it's who you know a lot more then it used to be. If you know someone, anyone, connect with them and get your foot in the door."

Smith works as a bartender in Newington to support himself and to pay off student loans. Although he is currently searching for a full-time position within his field, he said that he would rather not give up a job where he makes good money for a position where he could make substantially less.

"Right now I know I am lucky to have a job that allows me to support myself when many don't," Smith said. "It's scary to think about giving that up knowing college students who have already been fired and are unemployed."

Although recent graduates are among those struggling most to find professional work, Young's research shows that these challenges begin to fade once they enter their late 20s; a pattern that is accounted for by many factors of a changing job market. Young said that this is something young adults can prepare for before graduation.

"Today's job markets are bustling with folks who have college degrees," Young said. "So, UNH students should ask themselves what they can do while in college to set themselves apart from the rest."

A changing economic climate makes graduating a nerve-wracking prospect for many seniors, opening the door to a future of doubt and uncertainty.

"When I was in high school, I knew I had college to look forward to," Sousa said. "But now that I'm almost done college, my future is much broader and more unsure."

Even though the word "graduate" carries much different connotations than it did four years ago, students like Smith and Sousa know they have many opportunities to come thanks to a four-year college education; an insurance statistically proven in Young's report.

"Be patient and confident," Smith said. "A restaurant or part-time job right out of school does not make you a failure. In this job market, you have to be patient and when the opportunity comes, be ready!"


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