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The Next America - Workforce 2012 / Economy

Jobs Picture Grim for Recent High School Grads

Only 3 in 10 recent graduates with no college plans are employed.

The job market is tough for everyone, but for young people who look for a job after high school graduation rather than going to college, the search can be particularly grim. According to a new report, only three in 10 of these young people have full time jobs. ((AP Photo/Paul Sakuma))

June 7, 2012

The prospects are grim these days for high school graduates who look for work instead of enrolling in college, according to a recent study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

Only three in 10 of these recent grads are employed full time, according to the study, which tracked the employment outcomes of 544 young people who graduated from high schools across the country between 2006 and 2011.

The Great Recession has had an impact on everyone, but for young people without a college degree, the employment picture is crippling.

Only 16 percent of those who graduated during the recession (2009-2011) are employed full time, although nearly half are looking for work. A third are unemployed and 15 percent are working part time. One in six have left the labor market altogether.

Thirty-seven percent of students who graduated pre-recession (2006-2008) are employed full time, according to the report.

It’s a debilitating reality faced by many young people in the nation's capital every day, says Raymond Bell, founder of the HOPE Project, an IT training and development program in Washington.  

“They’re unable to get McDonald’s, Wendy’s, retail,” he said. “Twenty years ago in D.C., you could graduate from high school ... and you could go work for the federal government or the Postal Service. Now they’re competing with a kid from George Washington University with a 3.9 GPA.”

The study shows that although employment is better than the alternative, the jobs young high school grads are landing are predominantly low-paying and often are temporary.

Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said they were paid hourly. The average hourly wage was $7.50, only 25 cents more than the federal minimum wage. Three quarters of the jobs reported were temporary.

“With this combination of temporary, low-wage work, it is likely that few of the recent high school graduates would have been able to earn an annual income of $10,890 to exceed the official federal poverty level for a single household,” wrote the study’s authors.

Of those who worked part time in their first job after college, about 58 percent earned considerably less than a poverty-level income, according to the study.

That has consequences for everyone, Bell said. Young grads without prospects for solid employment are more likely to be teen parents, become homeless, or engage in petty crime, he said.

The Great Recession depressed wages for all young graduates, according to the report. Wages for young high school grads dropped 10 percent from 2007 to 2011. Pay for young college grads dropped by about 5 percent.

In 2011, young college grads earned an average of $16.81 per hour - about $35,000 annually, according to the Economic Policy Institute.  

The unemployment rate for all workers ages 16-19 was three times the national average -- 24.6 percent in May, according to the Labor Department.  

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