With graduation behind them, most new professionals look forward to starting their careers on an optimistic note. Not so for those who graduated during the Great Recession, according to Rutgers University's Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.
"There is a large number of talented people who are underemployed or unemployed," notes Carl Van Horn, director of the Heldrich Center and co-author of the study Unfulfilled Expectations: Recent College Graduates Struggle in a Troubled Economy. "Many of them are working part-time jobs, and many are in positions that don't require a college degree. There is a broad and deep pool [of people] who graduated during this period and are looking for a better full-time job."
The study found that those who landed positions during the recession in 2009 and 2010 found jobs that paid about 10 percent less than those of pre-recession graduates (2006 and 2007). The representative sample was made up of 571 college graduates who graduated between 2006 and 2010.
Although 52 percent took jobs that require a four-year degree, 40 percent took positions that did not, and 8 percent weren't sure if their jobs required a college degree. In addition, men significantly out-earned women in their first jobs out of school, with median for men at $33,150 versus $28,000 for women.
Recent graduates who did find jobs somewhat related to their majors received a higher salary (average $35,000) compared to those who did not (average $25,000). The picture was brightest for those who had internships during their schooling. They were more likely to land a job related to their major and earned roughly 20 percent more than those who did not have an internship.
The number working in an unrelated field is higher for students who graduated during the recession (2009 and 2010), at 43 percent compared to just 22 percent for prerecession (2006 and 2007) graduates.
In general, graduates were pleased with their college education, but 62 percent of all recent college graduates believe they will need more formal education if they are to be successful in their chosen career. Only 20 percent felt they could have a successful career with the four-year diploma they have hanging on their wall.
"Most wish they had taken a different major, done another internship, or started their job search sooner," notes Van Horn.
One of the most surprising findings to come out of the study was the seeming pessimism of recent graduates. The first-generation college graduates were the most optimistic, with 62 percent saying they expect to do better than their parents; but only 34 percent of those from families in which both parents were college graduates expect to do better.
"The dismal sense of college graduates' financial future is yet another sign of the corrosive effect of the Great Recession," notes Van Horn. "Even young graduates of four-year colleges and universities, who are typically optimistic about their futures, are expressing doubt in another cornerstone of the American dream - that each generation can enjoy more prosperity than the one that came before it."