Study shows rise in youth unemployment

MSU alumna Julie Zimmerman’s job search has been ripe with frustration.

Since graduating in May, Zimmerman has been on almost a dozen job interviews and heard nothing back, leaving her discouraged about beginning her career.

“Looking for a job in itself is a full-time job,” she said. “You can’t just sit down at the computer and do it for a couple hours a day.”

Zimmerman is one of the 6.5 million young Americans not in school and not employed, a consistent trend of unemployment among young people, according to a new study.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based foundation that serves disadvantaged children, found that only about 50 percent of American youth aged 16-24 were employed in 2011, the lowest since World War II.

But Phil Gardner, director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute, said the youth employment problem began even earlier than a decade ago.

Gardner said that in the past several decades as manufacturing jobs declined, there was a surplus of workers seeking too few jobs.

As a result, overqualified people have pushed youth out of job opportunities, he said.

“It is not just one event or decision that has strapped youth, just a whole set of things have come together,” he said in an email. “And the situation is not expected to improve any time soon.”

Zimmerman, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in advertising, expected her job search to be tough, but the level of difficulty she’s encountered is perplexing.

“I don’t worry about finding a job in advertising because it is a field that is forever evolving,” she said. “(But) because of the difficulty I’ve had finding a job … I’ve started coming around to the idea of looking for jobs completely unrelated to what I went to school for.”

The study’s authors do not specify the type of employment young people are seeking, but note that “it often takes a GED to get a job flipping hamburgers” in today’s job market.

For college students, the situation in Michigan means a shift in expectations from employers, said Linda Gross, associate director of MSU’s Career Services Network.

Gross said a relatively new knowledge-based economy — as opposed to a manufacturing economy — means simply having a degree isn’t enough, considering entering the workforce necessitates some kind of degree.

“Many students I meet with have an expectation that just completing their degree is going to result in a job,” Gross said, adding internship experience has become more important to securing a job. “It is not just the credential of having an education that makes a difference.”

But Zimmerman, who did three internships while at MSU, said she thought showing employers she could juggle many tasks while being a full-time student would help in her job search.

Gross said even with internship experience to boast about, when young people face a larger number of people seeking jobs, it is harder to hit the ground running with enough experience in the workplace.

Competition ultimately adds to some struggles young people have in the job market, experts said.

“Unfortunately, many folks have been left behind, and undereducated and underprepared youth are taking the brunt,” Gardner said.

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