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Online Company Puts Students to Work

The Chapel Hill News

CHAPEL HILL - Just two years out of college, 24-year-old Morris Gelblum is running a growing online company that helps other young people struggling in the Great Recession make ends meet.

Gelblum’s company, Sweeps, connects college students with odd jobs such as computer IT work, moving furniture, tutoring and proofreading papers. One frequent odd job for students of the digital age: Helping people learn to use their iPhones.

The company charges a flat rate of $25 an hour, and students are paid $14, plus tip. About 250 “Sweepers” from UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State University and four other universities worked in the Triangle in 2011, up from 75 Sweepers when it launched in 2010. This year, Sweeps will expand into Charlotte, Wilmington and the Triad area.

Gelblum wants to help young people make extra spending money, network and gain work skills that could lead to full-time jobs.

“I was graduating in 2010 amid a graduating class that was hit hard by the recession. It had created this need,” he said. “People are either unemployed or under-employed. It’s been three to four years now where it’s been tough for my generation.”

By the numbers, the job market for graduates this year still looks challenging. The national unemployment rate for people under 25 years old was 16.4 percent in April, double the overall national rate of 8.1 percent.

At the same time, graduates also have the weight of mounting college loan debts on their young shoulders.

A recent study by John Quinterno, founder of Chapel Hill-based research consultancy South by North Strategies Ltd., for Demos, a New York public policy organization, found that as state government support for higher education has declined during the past decade, tuition and fees at four-year public universities increased by 112.5 percent. Outstanding student loan debt in the U.S. has grown by a factor of 4.5 since 1999, from $119 billion in first quarter 1999 to $541 billion in first quarter 2011.

“Compared to prior generations of college students, young adults who have reached college age since 2000 have increasingly been left to their own devices,” Quinterno wrote.