According to a survey by Rutgers University, half of college graduates in the past five years say their jobs didn't require a four-year degree and only 20 percent said their first job was on their career path.
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"Our society's most talented people are unable to find a job that gives them a decent income," says Cliff Zulkin, a professor of political science and public policy at Rutgers.
The jobs that once went to recent college graduates are now more often going to older Americans. Over the past year, workers over 55 accounted for 58% of employment growth, says Dean Baker, a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. Why? Employers think older workers are a safer bet and more likely to stay, he says. Unemployment hovered at 6.2% in July for workers over 55, according to the Labor Department, but was more than double that rate - 12.7% - for those ages 18 to 29.
The median base salary for recent graduate is $27,000, according to Katie Bardaro, lead economist for PayScale.com, a company that collects data on salaries.
$27,000 for an entry-level salary is 10 percent less than years ago, the Rutgers study found.
"Unlike those who graduated five years ago," Zukin says, "the long-term expectations of this generation are not being met."
Graduates must come to terms with years of underemployment or enter graduate school.
"This generation of young Americans are trapped," says Paul T. Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit think tank based in Arlington, Va.
Dave Marshall, 23, earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Florida in Gainesville last year, works in private security and is a reservist in the U.S. Army's National Guard. "My education is almost irrelevant in the private security field," he says, "but it's a job." And while 63% of "Generation Y" workers - those age 18 to 29 - have a bachelor's degree, the majority of the jobs taken by graduates don't require one, according to an online survey of 500,000 young workers carried out between July 2011 and July.
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