Open Thread: No Hope and Pocket Change for Young Americans

Young Americans, who were a key component of candidate Barack Obama's election strategy in 2008, have been having an awful time of it lately. According to two separate surveys, many young adults 18 to 29 are stuck in the awful employment market. The majority have a bachelor's degree but are not in jobs that require a college degree.

Interestingly enough, the jobs which traditionally had been filled by recent college graduates have been going to older Americans, meaning that many are stuck in underemployment:

[T]he majority of the jobs taken by graduates don’t require [a college degree], according to an online survey of 500,000 young workers carried out between July 2011 and July 2012 by PayScale.com, a company that collects data on salaries.

Another survey by Rutgers University came to the same conclusion: Half of graduates in the past five years say their jobs didn’t require a four-year degree and only 20% said their first job was on their career path. “Our society’s most talented people are unable to find a job that gives them a decent income,” says Cliff Zukin, a professor of political science and public policy at Rutgers.

The jobs that once went to recent college graduates are now more often going to older Americans. Over the past year, workers over 55 accounted for 58% of employment growth, says Dean Baker, a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. Why? Employers think older workers are a safer bet and more likely to stay, he says. Unemployment hovered at 6.2% in July for workers over 55, according to the Labor Department, but was more than double that rate — 12.7% — for those ages 18 to 29.

As a result, college graduates are finding themselves locked into lower-paid jobs. “The shaky economy has forced many of them into a world of underemployment,” says Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale. The starting salary for a graduate is $27,000, 10% less than five years ago, the Rutger’s study found. “Unlike those who graduated five years ago,” Zukin says, “the long-term expectations of this generation are not being met.”

Graduates must either face years of underemployment or go back to graduate school, experts say.

“This generation of young Americans are trapped,” says Paul T. Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit think tank based in Arlington, Va.

Economic reality may be the reason why some trends are beginning to emerge that younger voters are souring on Obama now that he's up for reelection.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013