published Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Youthful, hopeful, jobless

Francis Murillo, 21, had a job this summer, putting her in the minority for her age group.

Getting a job is a less-than-common occurrence, and now that Murillo is back at school, away from home and her summer job, she’s rejoined the majority of her peers who either aren’t looking for work or just can’t find it.

“I don’t care where I’m working,” said the Johnson City, Tenn., resident last week while looking for another job in Chattanooga. “It’s really hard.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 48.8 percent of those between 16 and 24 had a job in July, normally the peak of employment when school is out.

The share of teens and young adults employed this summer was the lowest on record.

“There’s two things going on, but they both conspire against young people,” said Carl Van Horn, a labor economist at Rutgers University. “The economy is bad, we know that. But the other thing that happens when the economy is bad is it has a ripple effect and it tends to push young workers out.”

Van Horn is an author of a recent report that surveyed college graduates. He found just over half are working full time with a median salary 10 percent lower than earnings of graduates three years earlier — before the recession hit.

Struggling businesses tend to lay off their most recent hires in tough economic times, pushing 25- to 30-year-old workers back into the job market, Van Horn said.

Those slightly older workers then grab jobs below their education and skill level that younger workers could have taken, keeping the youth unemployed.

Costly Resume Gaps

It’s a phenomenon not lost on 20-year-old University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student Tyrell McKinney, who has been looking for employment over the past few weeks.

“There’s just a lot of people looking for jobs and a lot of people trying to settle,” he said. “That just leaves out younger people trying to get jobs.”

As unemployed youth continue to search for work, the ever-expanding gaps in their resumes can cause long-term problems. Unable to take the first step in their careers, many young people aren’t learning the value and discipline of work and that could hurt their upward mobility for years, Van Horn said.

“A lot of employers look at that as a sign that there’s something wrong with the person,” Van Horn said. “It has a decadelong effect in terms of depressing your wages and salary.”

Many high school age job seekers are also feeling pushed aside.

Kyle Hixson, an 18-year-old senior at Chattanooga Christian School, took an unpaid internship this summer just to get experience.

“Any time you do something that puts you a little bit out of your comfort zone and pushes your limits, it’s definitely good for you,” he said. “It’s tough because at the age when we were able to get jobs, that’s when the economy got rough.”

The consequences of that rough economy are perhaps most serious for the recently graduated, who after time can give up on a job market with few signs of life.

“The worst thing that one worries about is people who just completely drop out of the labor market and engage in the underground market, illegal activities, crime,” Van Horn said.

Employed Outside Area of Study

Recent University of Georgia grad Colin Owen, 24, hasn’t fallen to crime but has needed to fall back on family as he enters his third month searching for a job.

When he went to college orientation in 2006, 80 percent of graduates in his landscape architecture program had jobs and the remainder found work within six months. Out of the 80 students who graduated with him in May, he hasn’t heard of a single one landing a landscape architecture job, Owen said.

Owen applied to every prospective civil engineering firm in Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas and is working his way through North Carolina.

“It’s hard to find anything, whether it’s just a ‘pay the bills’ job or a career,” he said. “The two biggest challenges are making what little money I have last and then just the constant bombardment of being told no. Even if you know you have a great resume, great portfolio, great credentials, being turned down, after a while, it’s nothing personal but mentally it gets to you.”

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