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Recent college graduates feel pain of slow economic recovery; Many struggle to find jobs in their fields

Since he got his bachelor's degree last May, Kirk Devezin II has worked a little more than six months and freelanced. He has never made more than the $10.36 an hour he earned as a barista at Starbucks while he was a student at Eastern Connecticut State University.

He has interviewed for one job related to his communications major -- as a content developer for TicketNetwork -- and one career-track job as a manager-in-training at Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

"I apply to jobs constantly, constantly, constantly," he said. "Am I supposed to just join the military because that's the only option that's left? It's just more and more frustrating every day."

Lately, all the interviews have been for barista and cook jobs, and one at a carwash, where he's competing for jobs with people who didn't go to college at all, or who didn't graduate.

When he applied for jobs two weeks ago at Dunkin' Donuts and a coffeeshop, he left his college degree off the application, sensing the employers don't want to hire him because he's overqualified. "They don't think I will stay," he said.

"[Going to college] just seems like it was just a big waste of time," said Devezin, 24, who lives with his girlfriend, who got a good job at the University of Connecticut after graduation. "And I'm $20,000 in debt."

The numbers show that he's wrong -- earning a college degree is still the best way to avoid unemployment. But the number of recent college grads who can't find work, or who can find only part-time retail or restaurant jobs that don't require an education, grew by more than 70 percent over the last two years.

That puts stress on the graduates, who often can't keep up with student loan payments when they're making $8 or $10 an hour, and crowds out other young workers with less education.

Last year, high school graduates 20 to 24 had a 29 percent unemployment rate. College dropouts 20 to 24 had a 14 percent unemployment rate. And college graduates in that age group had a 9.4 percent jobless rate, a little worse than the year before, when unemployment for recent graduates really shot up.

Before the recession, it was 5.5 percent for young college grads.

Now, the lack of job growth in professional fields is creating a vicious cycle for young adults, said Andrew Sum, director of the center for labor market studies at Northeastern University.

"Every job they take, they take away from the group beneath them," he said. "It's a depression for young people, it's the only way to describe it."

While much attention has been paid to the jobless rate among former construction workers, black and Hispanic people and people with less education -- and they are hardest hit -- the pain of the slow recovery is also touching young people who aren't in those categories.

Americans between 20 and 24 have more than double the unemployment rate of those 45 to 65, and the unemployment rate remains high across the board.

It's particularly hard for young black college graduates, especially black men. More than 25 percent of black men younger than 24 with college degrees were unemployed last year, about the same rate as young black men who were college dropouts, and worse than it was for black male high school graduates before the recession.

It's harder for blacks to find jobs for several reasons -- their parents are less likely to have a network in corporations that are hiring, there is still racial discrimination, and black students often go to less-selective colleges and take longer to get through school, said Christian Weller, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, and professor of public policy at University of Massachusetts-Boston.

"Employers may interpret that this person is not as focused, not as smart," Weller said. "Employers, especially in the labor market we're in now, will use college reputation as a screening device."

Weller doesn't think that the competition from 2011 grads in a few months will make it worse for underemployed or unemployed 2009 and 2010 graduates but advised those young people to do volunteer work, like after-school tutoring. "That strengthens your marketability," he said.

The emotional toll for young people who are unemployed and underemployed may be less than that of older people whose children ask them when they'll get a job, or who lose a home they'd paid for for years. But it's real.

Devezin worries he will be behind for years because of his bad luck, graduating when unemployment was so high. Some studies show it takes new college grads six years to catch up in salary; others say it takes decades.

"Once I graduated from college, my plan was to get a house in five years. That's not going to happen," he said. "I feel like I'm just digging myself a hole. I don't know if I'll be able to get out of it by the time I'm 35."

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