High school grads face grim job prospects

A dismal May jobs report and double-dip recession in parts of Europe sent stocks tumbling Friday. Rebecca Jarvis reports, then she and Anthony Mason speak with Michael Santoli, of Barron's, about the job and stock markets.

(MoneyWatch) Although recent college graduates are struggling to find work in a labor market battered by the Great Recession, job prospects are even worse for another group: high school graduates.

Only 3 in 10 high school graduates from the classes of 2006 through 2011 have found full-time employment, according to a new Rutgers University report. The numbers are particularly dire for students who graduated after the financial crisis erupted in 2008, with only 16 percent who graduated during the recession employed full-time. By comparison, roughly half of college graduates over the past five years do not have full time jobs.

Overall, nearly half of high school graduates during that period are looking for full-time work, including 30 percent who are jobless and 15 percent who have part-time positions. Fully 1 in 6 of these graduates have quit looking for work altogether. Some 7 in 10 high school graduates ages 18 to 24, or more than 20 million people, lack a college degree, reflecting the huge challenge for the U.S. economy in producing enough jobs to absorb these workers into the labor market.

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Such statistics also underline the scale of the task for U.S. policymakers trying to boost job-creation. American businesses added only 69,000 jobs in May, less than half what economists had expected. For the first time since June, the unemployment rate ticked up, to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent.

The current median wage for employed high school graduates working full time is $9.50, $2 above the federal minimum wage. That means those working full time earn barely enough to keep them out of poverty. By comparison, college graduates make an average hourly wage of $16.81 per hour, which amounts to an annual salary of roughly $35,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think-tank.

"There is tremendous pessimism among high school graduates about what the future holds for them," write the authors of the Rutgers study. "The number expecting their generation to do less well financially than the one before them outnumbers those who expect to do better by a margin of four to one. Most believe they are less prepared than the previous generation to enter the workforce."

In a sign of that pessimism, 90 percent of recent high school graduates surveyed by Rutgers said that high school did not prepare them "extremely well" for employment. Respondents in this group stated that if they could attend high school again, they would have taken different courses to better prepare them for a specific skill trade.

Other findings from the study:

  • 3 percent of high school graduates are self-employed
  • The median wage of high school graduates in their first job was $7.50, 25 cents above minimum wage
  • 15 percent of high school graduates are working part-time and looking for full-time employment
  • 44 percent of high school graduates expect to have more economic success than their parents
  • 38 percent of high school graduates agree with the statement that "hard work and determination are no guarantee of success"

In his January State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said that college "is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford." Yet, due to the steep cost of higher education, only 38 percent of high school graduates said that they definitely planned to attend college in the next few years.

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