Got Work?

As the economy stalls, college graduates are finding it difficult to find work

May 20, 2009, 2:39 PM

HARTFORD, Conn., May 20, 2009— -- Casey Savage graduated from Trinity College in Hartford with a 3.8 grade-point average and honors. What he doesn't have is a job.

"I've talked to 24 different firms so far. Hedge funds, investment banks, private equity shops," Savage said. "And I just feel that there's limited opportunities at this point."

It's a familiar refrain being echoed at colleges and universities across the country, as the economy continues to slump and layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts dominate the employment landscape. The struggling economy means college seniors are facing one of the toughest job markets in years.

According to a survey from National Association of Colleges and Employers, the class of 2009 is leaving campus with fewer jobs in hand than their 2008 counterparts. The group's 2009 Student Survey found that just 19.7 percent of 2009 graduates who applied for a job actually have one.

In comparison, 51 percent of those graduating in 2007 and 26 percent of those graduating in 2008 who had applied for a job had one in hand by the time of graduation.

Economist say the members of this year's graduating class are also facing unique challenges not only because they are dueling against the growing ranks of unemployed for work, but because they are also facing a backlog created from last year's graduates who have yet to find fulltime employment.

Bryan Hopkins, a senior at the University of Florida, calls the situation frustrating. "You feel frustrated because you feel now that was it all worth it," he said. "In a perfect world, I would have walked right off the stage and into a fulltime job in my field, but I mean I have the degree now and I am still waiting."

Yale University School of Management professor Lisa Kahn said recent college graduates will suffer the long-term effects of this recession much more than their counterparts who graduated in boom times.

Departing seniors are "suffering from the recession like everyone else is, but the effects are going to stay with (them) for much longer," Kahn said.

Tougher Times Ahead for Grads

Kahn studied the impact of the recession in the 1980s and found that seniors who graduated then were still feeling the impact 20 years later. Today's seniors are "going to be earning much less than their counterparts who graduated in better times and they'll be in lower level occupations," she said.

University of Arizona senior Reyna Nowaczyk said the lack of job prospects has left her "overwhelmed."

"I don't know what to do next," she said. "I've done all the right things: done my fair share of internships, studied abroad. I've studied languages while abroad. I have my letters of recommendation from employers. I feel like I prepared myself; I feel like I'm ready. I want to work."

But according to employment professionals, graduating seniors will need to be flexible in this economy.

"If I were a 22-year-old today I would be willing to take an unpaid internship," said Lanna Hagge, director of Career Services at Trinity College. "I would be willing to do almost anything just to get the experience and exposure."

That's advice Trinity graduate Chauncy Kerr is taking. She is looking to land an unpaid internship this summer.

"You get job experience so I'm excited about that," Kerr said. But, she added, "It would be nice to get paid."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events