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The Jobless Class of 2012

Quentin Fottrell

The Class of 2012 may have few reasons to celebrate this year. Along with the long-term unemployed, experts say their prospects are the bleakest among all job-seekers.

The U.S. economy added a lower-than-expected 80,000 jobs last month, according to data Friday from the Labor Department.  Though the overall unemployment rate remained unchanged at 8.2%, experts say this year’s 1.8 million college graduates have a rough job search ahead. “Over the last five years, the jobs situation has gotten increasingly intense for each successive graduating class,” says Paul T. Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, a non-profit think-tank based in Arlington, Va. “Their concern is now palpable.”

The last half-decade has not been good to graduates. Only a half of those who graduated since 2006 are now employed full time, according to a recent Rutgers University survey.  More college graduates are settling for jobs that in years past would have gone to those without degrees, while people in their 30s are now occupying jobs once taken by recent graduates, says Carl Van Horn, professor of public policy and director of Rutgers’ John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.

But if all the young people who’ve already given up looking for jobs are included — the 1.7 million people aged 18-29 who’ve been out of work for more than a year — the latest 8.2% unemployment figure would be closer to 16.8% for that age group, Conway says. That’s the highest unemployment rate for that age group since World War II. “Their story is one of few opportunities, delayed dreams, and stalled careers,” he says.

[Related: High-paying jobs for new graduates]

The faltering economic recovery prompted students from the class of 2012 to apply for jobs much earlier than graduates of earlier years. More than half of college seniors reported they applied for a job prior to graduating, according to a survey of 48,000 graduating seniors by National Association of Colleges and Employers, and more than a quarter of those that applied for a job found one, the survey found.

Some majors fared far better than others: Over half of those who accounting, engineering, computer science, economics and business administration graduates received at least one offer.

But faced with competition from older workers, young professionals are accepting jobs for less money. College graduates who obtained their first job between 2009 and 2011 earned $27,000 a year or 10% less than those who entered the workforce in the two previous years, the Rutgers survey found. Van Horn says many of this year’s graduates lucky enough to find employment will be disappointed with their salary. Mark Mulholland, 22, a history major from the University of Virginia, graduated in May 2012 and is now looking for work in communications. “My hope is to gain valuable experience rather than a massive salary,” he says. His target? $40,000 a year.

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