Job market better but still not great for class of '13

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(MoneyWatch) This year's college graduates will enter one of the better job markets in recent years, according to a new study. However, finding a well-paying job could still be a challenge for many.

More than half of U.S. employers plan to hire recent college graduates in 2013, on par with 2012 (54 percent) and up significantly from 2011 (46 percent) and 2010 (44 percent), according to a study out today from CareerBuilder.com. While this is an improvement, it is still 20 percentage points below the pre-recession averages.

Graduates with degrees in information technology and finance are likely to have the easiest time finding work. Some 65 percent of IT employers say they plan to hire recent graduates -- more than any other industry, according to the survey. Financial service companies (63 percent) and health care employers (56 percent) were the next most likely to hire. Further, 37 percent of IT and financial service firms said they would recruit prior to graduation in order to find people for the hardest to fill positions.

However, those who don't graduate from college with a degree in one of these high-skill areas may wind up taking positions well below what they were expecting.

A study published a year ago by the Associated Press said about 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of those under 25 with a bachelor's degree were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. In 2000, the share was at a low of 41 percent, before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and IT fields. Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year.

The report also found

Broken down by occupation, young college graduates were heavily represented in jobs that require a high school diploma or less. In the last year, they were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined (100,000 versus 90,000). There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionist or payroll clerk than in all computer professional jobs (163,000 versus 100,000). More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000).

Because of the high demand for IT and finance skills, graduates landing those jobs will likely get better salaries than the rest of their classmates. From 2000 to 2011 the real (inflation-adjusted) wages of young college graduates declined by 5.4 percent, according to a report last year from the Economic Policy Institute.

When assessed strictly by the dollar amount the average salaries of graduates are going up. They increased from $42,987 to $44,455 (3.4 percent) from 2011 to 2012, according to a study released in January by National Association of Colleges and Employers. This was the best year-over-year rise in starting salary since the class of 2008.

This is hopefully good news for the many students who are having to take out loans to pay for tuitions which have increased far more rapidly than median family incomes.

Overall, the CareerBuilder survey found that only 27 percent of companies hiring recent graduates expect to offer higher starting salaries than they did in 2012. Nearly half said starting salaries would range between $30,000 and $49,999. A quarter of those hiring said their salaries would be less than $30,000, and the same percent said they would offer salaries of more than $50,000.

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