Ashley Newhall has a law degree and a master's in agricultural law, and she passed the bar in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. These days, she's working with some extremely demanding and exacting clients.
The hitch? Most of them are less than 3 years old.
The Philadelphia resident's primary income source for the past few years has been babysitting. Newhall said parents are "blown away" by her qualifications.
"They're like, 'Oh, my gosh! You're the most overeducated nanny I've ever had.' "
But jobs are scarce, and all that education came with six-figure debt. Along with two other jobs, Newhall said, "nannying is keeping me afloat."
Newhall, 28, may consider her stint in the nursery a detour. But for busy parents, it's a boon — and an unexpected flip-side to a job market that has been especially cruel to young workers. Parents are enjoying a pool of highly qualified and educated 20-something sitters — some with safety certifications and degrees in early-childhood education — often at the same price as the high-schooler down the street.
"You'd think, if they have more education, they'll bring more to the table, and honestly, they do," said Rachel Kerner, a physician and mother of two toddlers who lives in Melrose Park, Pa.
"We have a person who finished her degree in education, so she's able to do projects with the kids. We have an occupational-therapy student and a social worker — and they're all bringing added benefits, so it's not just a teenager sitting there waiting for her boyfriend to come over with the pizza."
According a recent report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, underemployment among college graduates has risen significantly since 2001. Last year, 18.3 percent of young college grads were underemployed.
"The labor market's growing very slowly, and there's been a number of graduating classes since the recession began, so the competition is pretty fierce," said Mark Price, labor economist at the Keystone Research Center.
And as of 2012, 52 percent of college graduates younger than 25 who were employed held jobs that didn't require four-year degrees, according to an analysis by a Northeastern University economist.
College graduates still fare far better than those with less education, Price said, "but their circumstances as a group are worse today than where their counterparts were a decade ago."
It comes, though, at a convenient moment for parents like Kerner and her husband, Jeff Cawthorne. That's because the babysitters they might depend on otherwise are often overscheduled and inaccessible.
"The one kid who lives down the street, he's in a play, he's got karate. He doesn't have a lot of free time. But the people who are underemployed and living with their parents, they're readily available," Cawthorne said.
Wendy Sachs, who runs the Philadelphia Nanny Network, said she's seen a similar surge of college graduates. Some nanny while seeking other jobs; others are in the process of applying to graduate schools (either to burnish their credentials, or to defer student loans).
The supply is even fueling a demand for more educated nannies. To a degree, Sachs said, nannying is becoming professionalized.
And, in the era of boomerang kids, college grads' parents are far less likely to complain.
"Being a nanny has gained a tremendous amount in terms of professional prestige and respect," Sachs said. "The compensation packages reflect that . with paid holidays, paid sick (leave), and personal time and health care."