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Unemployed college grads: the upside

About half of the college grads from 2010 had jobs a year later. I have four kids who finished college in the last three years and one more still in school. But they’re getting something out of this raw deal, and so are their peers: an attitude adjustment, and experience outside the cubicle.

By By Jim Sollisch / November 18, 2011


I walked out of college after six years with a master’s degree in English literature and right into the dark days of 1982. Unemployment was 10 percent. Mortgage rates were 13 percent. And my chances of getting a real job turned out to be about zero. But more about that later.

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What can a college grad expect today? Well, it’s not much better. According to a recent piece in the New York Times, about half of the class of 2010 still hadn’t found a job almost a year later. (By contrast, 90 percent of the classes of 2006 and 2007 already had jobs a year later).

So what are these recent grads doing? They’re tending bar, pressing espressos, making change at Target. They’re sending out dozens of résumés a week, doing volunteer work to build their résumés, networking on LinkedIn, and an alarming number are back at home, living with Mom and Dad.

Economists and social observers now talk about a lost mini-generation, fearing these recent grads will never catch up financially because the lower your starting salary, the smaller your earning potential over time.

So is there an upside to all this gloom?

I sure hope so, since I have four kids who finished college in the last three years and one more still in school. They are at various stages in the statistics of unemployment, underemployment, and full employment. But they’re getting something out of this raw deal, I think, and so are millions of their peers.

The first thing they’re getting is an attitude adjustment. The bad economy is doing them a favor by teaching them the value of a job. I see it in my own kids, and I see it in the new employees at my ad agency. There’s a sense of purpose, a focus and even, dare I say it, a sense of loyalty and gratitude that’s been missing for most of a generation.

Based on my experience, much of the class of 2006, for example, wanted a promotion, a raise, and their own offices by the end of 2007. Their expectations were absurdly out of touch with any reality. So this current lowering of expectations is a much needed adjustment. But it isn’t just good for employers, it’s good for employees. Expecting less can actually make you happier.


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