Six years after finishing college – with a degree in molecular and cellular biology – Sydney Gray works 18 hours a week as a cashier at a New Orleans farmers' market. Other times, she volunteers there to get free food.
"I can't even get a job waiting tables," says Ms. Gray, whose two previous part-time jobs ended when the employers folded. "When I apply for jobs, I'm competing against people with master's degrees and PhDs."
Today's job market is not only grueling for young people, it's also perplexing. The unemployment rate for 20 to 24-year-olds fell slightly to 12.9 percent in September, nearly six percentage points higher than the national average of 7.2 percent and slightly higher than that figure was in September 2012 (12.4 percent). Although the economy overall has recovered nearly three quarters of the jobs it lost during the Great Recession, most of them are going to older workers, not younger ones. A recent Gallup poll found that fewer 18-to-29-year-olds held full-time jobs in June than they did in the past three years.
The implications are bad enough for the young unemployed, a generation carrying a record trillion-dollar debt in student loans. Getting a late career start could mean a lifetime of reduced overall earnings and savings. But these problems are also rippling outward. Parents are housing a record number of their adult children – 21.6 million people ages 18 to 31 last year, reports the Pew Research Center in Washington. This is squeezing both generations financially, reducing demand, and slowing the recovery even more.
It's "unusually bad" for young people, says Catherine Ruetschlin, a policy analyst at Demos, a New York think tank. "Since the recession ended, the largest portion of job gains have gone to older workers, especially those aged 55 and older."