One expert says the job market this year has declined by 36 percent.
By EMILY BIRR
Most people see a college degree as a guarantee of a decent job. And in the economic boom of the late '90s, most college grads had multiple job offers after getting their diplomas.
But members of the class of 2002 are learning that eager companies who embraced their older classmates just a few years ago are giving this year's grads the cold shoulder.
What is causing this job shortage and what are grads doing about it?
The number of jobs available to graduates depends upon the state of the economy.
From the mid to late '90s, the economy was doing very well. Excited investors sank millions of dollars into new Internet and technology companies, creating plenty of high-paying jobs.
However, by the spring of 2000, the economy stopped growing and eventually started to decline. Some companies shut down, while others decided to stay safe by freezing new jobs or laying off workers instead.
While hundreds of thousands of college graduates and other people were looking for work, fewer jobs were created in 2000 and 2001 than in years past. The result was an increase in unemployment -- to 6 percent in early 2002, the highest in nearly eight years.
Once a company starts to lay off workers, it takes a long time before it starts to hire again. Business executives want to make sure that the economy is rebounding before they add jobs.
Marilyn Mackes, executive director of the National Association of Colleges and Employers, told the NewsHour that 2002 will have a 36 percent decrease in job opportunities.
Diploma in hand
For recent college grads in particular, the news is even worse. College graduates may have their well-earned diplomas, but in a tight job market they can lose out to people with more job experience.
Workers with higher degrees and years of experience who were fired from their jobs often take lower-paying jobs over having no job at all -- squeezing out all but the best of the new graduating classes.
Realizing that opportunity might not come knocking anytime soon, many grads are taking a creative approach. For some, that means settling for a low-paying job where they can at least earn a paycheck while waiting for job market conditions to improve.
Some are choosing to stay in school longer, heading to graduate school where they hope a higher degree might boost their r & eacute;sum & eacute;s. Still other students are saving money by moving home with their families.
And a growing number of graduates are discovering the benefits of volunteer service through organizations such as the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, where grads get work experience helping needy communities and can postpone paying back school loans.
What's the good news?
There are signs that the economy is improving. And even now, there are options, if grads know where to look.
The demand for some professions, like teaching and nursing, are at a high point. So, graduates interested in those jobs have a very good chance of becoming employed. And the U.S. government is hiring 16 percent more people than last year, offering a variety of opportunities in public service.
Also, despite the lack of "first-choice" jobs, the chances of someone with a college degree being unemployed are much lower than people with only a high school education.
Cecilia Conrad, a labor economist, said a college degree "is still one of the best assets you can have in this type of [job] market."
All of which is good news for the new graduates crossing the stage in their caps and gowns.
XNewsHour Extra is the student Web site for "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra).