With college commencement ceremonies nearing, the government is offering a modest dose of good news for graduating seniors: The job market is brightening for new grads — a bit.
But finding work — especially a dream job — remains tough for those just graduating. Many are settling for jobs outside their fields of study or for less pay than they'd expected or hoped for.
The Labor Department on Tuesday said the unemployment rate for 2013 college graduates — defined as those ages 20 to 29 who earned a four-year or advanced degree — was 10.9 percent. That was down from 13.3 percent in 2012 and was the lowest since 7.7 percent in 2007. The drop reflects the steady recovery in overall U.S. economic growth and hiring.
"I'm finding that all these entry-level jobs are requiring experience I don't have or degrees that are just unattainable right out of college," says Howard Rudnick, 23, who graduated last year with a political science degree from Florida Atlantic University and wound up earning $25,000 a year working for an online shoe company.
Last year's female graduates fared better than men: 9 percent were unemployed as of October last year, compared with 13.7 percent of men. Analysts note that the economy has been generating jobs in many low-wage fields — such as retail and hotels — that disproportionately employ women.
Philip Gardner, director of Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute, says women also "have skill sets that employers want. … They have better communications skills. They have better interpersonal skills. They are more willing to work in teams."
The Labor Department reports that 260,000 college graduates were stuck last year working at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That's down from a peak of 327,000 in 2010, But it's more than double the 127,000 in 2007, the year the recession began.
In a study last year, economists at the University of British Columbia and York University in Canada found that college graduates were more likely to be working in routine and manual work than were graduates in 2000. The researchers concluded that technology was eliminating some midlevel jobs that graduates used to take. The result is that many have had to compete for jobs that don't require much education.
Their sobering conclusion:
"Having a B.A. is less about obtaining access to high-paying managerial and technology jobs and more about beating less-educated workers for the barista or clerical job."