Jennifer Greer graduated with a degree in early-childhood education last spring, but the 28-year-old Buffalo woman has only been able to find part-time work at a day care center. She baby-sits and cleans houses on the side to make ends meet.
Alysha Hodges completed a course in medical administration last December but has yet to find a job.
Loren McLaughlin, 29, of Buffalo, has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in counseling, and completed a year long internship in his field. But three years after graduating, he was at a “re-employment” event sponsored by the state to help him find work.
The economy has been tough on all Americans over the last few years – but it’s been especially hard on young people.
It’s always been a challenge for them to land that first job that gets them on a career path, but experts say it’s been especially difficult as the nation recovers from the recession.
The nation’s unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in October.
But for young people, the figure was higher. For 20- to 24-year-olds, it was 12.7 percent, according to non-seasonally adjusted figures from the U.S. Department of Labor. For 25- to 29-year-olds, it was 8.8 percent.
“It is more difficult for young people," said Jon Slenker, associate economist with the state Department of Labor. “A lot of that is due to [the fact that] they’re competing against young people with more experience and generally, more education ... The guy who graduated five years ago is their competition.”
Making things even more nerve-wracking for 20-somethings is that a college diploma doesn’t guarantee a good job any more either.
Colleges and universities in Western New York keeping tabs on their graduates found an array of situations.
The University at Buffalo sent out an informal survey to its undergraduate class of 2012 at graduation time and found that just 14 percent had lined up jobs and another 30 percent were accepted or had already enrolled in graduate school.
The university emphasized that the survey was not done scientifically. “It simply represents those who responded,” said Arlene F. Kaukus, director of UB Career Services.
However, the figures do offer a glimpse of the employment situation for people in their 20s. The rates have actually improved since 2008, Kaukus said, when only 10 percent of students said they had already accepted a job. But in that same year, 22 percent of respondents said they had been accepted or were enrolling in grad school.
Certain departments at UB, particularly those related to business, tracked their numbers differently.
A survey of UB students with degrees in business administration or accounting conducted three months after graduation found 56 percent were employed. Another 10 percent reported they had enrolled in graduate school.
As for students who received MBAs in 2012, 82 percent were employed three months after graduation – the best the rate has been in more than a decade, UB officials said.
At Buffalo State College’s career development center, a survey done in 2011 of the previous three graduating classes found that 57 percent of respondents had full-time jobs and another 14 percent were working part-time jobs.
The center’s director, Stephanie Zuckerman-Aviles, said she could see the impact of the economy on how long those employed students took to get a job. The highest percentage in previous surveys used to most often be in the three months to six months category. “Now, the highest percentage is over eight months,” she said.
Plus new graduates face stiff competition for open positions, she said.
“The local market has been horrible,” for education jobs, she said. “It’s 1,500 to one.”
Job seekers are having to distinguish themselves in new and creative ways to get noticed.
“A 4.0 won’t get you jobs anymore,” she said.
For some young Buffalo residents who don’t have a college degree, getting a job – never mind getting on a career track – has proved difficult.
Hodges, 22, worked at a fast-food restaurant for more than five years to support her child. But when she was pregnant with her second baby, she decided she wanted to make a change. She took a certificate course in medical administration through the Buffalo Employment and Opportunity Center in Buffalo so that she could find a job as a secretary or clerk at a doctor’s office.
She’s applied for 50 jobs, she said. “Most of them don’t even get back to you,” she said.
Even finding jobs in retail can be tough for teens like Chanel Williams, 18, of Buffalo.
A graduate of McKinley High School, Williams has been trying to find a job to help her make ends meet before she goes to school, either at ECC or Buffalo State College, she said.
“You’ve gotta be more qualified,” Williams said she’s been told countless times.
But even internships and advanced degrees are no guarantee of a good job, some 20-somethings have found.
McLaughlin has applied for at least 30 jobs in his field. But even with a master’s in counseling from Canisius College and a one-year internship at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, he is unemployed. The only jobs he’s had in the last two years have been through temp agencies.
He hasn’t given up yet but he’s looking into broadening his options, possibly moving out of state. Or, as some of his friends have had to do, move back home with his parents.
“That’s always a real possibility. I’m trying to avoid that at all costs,” he said.
Greer is hopeful that her career will soon get on track. She first got an associates degree at Erie Community College, then graduated this spring from Buffalo State College with a degree in early-childhood education but the only work directly related to her field she could find was a part-time job with a daycare center.
She loves the work – but wishes she could have her own classroom.
“I would like to be in a school district with benefits ... the whole career package,” she said. “I thought it would be a lot easier to find a job with a degree.”
To pay her rent and living expenses, Greer babysits and cleans houses on the side.
“It’s disheartening, at 28 years old, to have to piece together a 40-plus hour week schedule in order to scrape by,” she said.
But Slenker, the Labor Department economist, said things are looking brighter for young people.
As the economy improves, more jobs should become available, Slenker said. Also, baby boomers are starting to retire and in large numbers.
“It’s going to create opportunities,” he said.