An unexpected jump today in the number of Americans filing for unemployment for the first time is renewing fears that employers may not be done laying off workers, something we at ABC News are experiencing first hand this week.
The economic damage done by these relentless waves of layoffs has been deep and well-documented. But I've been struck recently by the impact it's having on a corner of the job market that usually escapes harm: college graduates. As a group, they're still faring much, much better than those without a degree. But the newest graduates seem to be an exception. There's just no room for the Class of '08 and '09 in this job market.
Listen to the stories we've been hearing on ABCNews.com from recent graduates:
"I just graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in corporate communications and concentrations in business and Chinese," wrote one. "I thought I would be set once I graduated. Of course, I was wrong. In order to pay the bills, am doing random odd jobs, such as cleaning and helping people pack."
Another told us: "I'm 22 years old with a degree in management from Hofstra University. I've been job hunting since May 2009. I've been making some money babysitting, but I don't want to make a career out of babysitting for the rest of my life."
Or this: "I graduated from Northern Michigan University in August '08 with a BS in mathematics. I have applied for nearly 300 jobs and only heard back from a small handful. Got a personal trainer's certificate..."
Unemployment Rate for the Young: 18.9 Percent
The unemployment rate among young Americans -- age 16 to 24 -- now stands at 18.9 percent. And while that number includes workers with only high school diplomas -- who have a hard time finding work even in good times -- there's no getting around the mountainous challenge it represents.
A new study by the Economic Policy Institute shows young Americans have become so discouraged by their job prospects that they are leaving the labor force "in droves." Since the recession began 25 months ago, EPI says 1.3 million young workers have dropped out of the job hunt, and the study's authors say, "This lost experience is likely to have a lasting detrimental effect on the wages and occupational paths of these young workers."
It's Tough Out There: Job Market for New Graduates
Discouraging indeed. Which is why I checked in with Trudy Steinfeld, who runs the Wasserman Center for Career Development at New York University. When I visited Trudy a year ago, hiring was as dead as she'd ever seen it in her long career.
Today she told me, "Activity has picked up dramatically. Not to levels of three years ago, but a lot of big organizations that laid off too many workers now need people."
And she says many employers love to hire new grads: "If I'm a corporate executive and can add a multitasking college grad with a laptop who I can train to do a million things, that's great."
Sure, it's only one glimmer, but glimmers are important when you belong to a demo facing 18.9 percent unemployment.
And until hiring picks up where you are, Steinfeld says there's no shame in cleaning, babysitting, and personal training. "Obviously, you do whatever you have to do to pay the bills."
If you can afford it, she recommends volunteering for a social service organization. The one thing she does NOT recommend is working 40 hours a week for free "at a company that can afford to pay you, next to another person getting paid to do what you're doing for free."
"It's not only exploitive," said Steinfeld, "it sends a message of desperation."
As one recent grad told us: "I have done internship after internship and they all seem to lead to only one thing. Another internship!"