- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 27, 2014

Nicholas Rastenis has come a long way from waiting tables and clerking at drugstores to keep body and soul together, as he did for years during and after the 2007-09 Great Recession.

The Yale drama school graduate in November finally landed a full-time job in his chosen field, doing marketing and graphics work for a Chicago dance troupe. He has been so busy that he had to turn down an offer he would have jumped at years ago to work on a movie production in Chicago.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Mr. Rastenis said. And with steady work and income, he’s been able to pay off some overdue bills and think for the first time about buying a car and planning marriage and a family with his girlfriend. He even has been able to buy health insurance for the first time since completing graduate school in the depths of the recession in 2008.

“Right now, I’m where I thought I’d be coming out of college,” he said. “It’s like my life was on hold” for years.

Mr. Rastenis‘ tribulations and recent good fortunes reflect the changing job conditions for millennials, the generation that arguably was hurt hardest by the deepest and longest recession in modern times.

The unemployment rate soared over 20 percent for 16- to 24-year-olds, encouraging them to stay in school in hopes of improving their employment prospects.

Many chose to live with their parents, take low-paying jobs that didn’t use their education, and otherwise postpone life goals. Without steady jobs and income, few felt able to buy cars or homes, or marry and have families.

But the outlook has started to improve noticeably for workers ages 15 to 25. The unemployment rate for that group plunged to 14.2 percent last month, off nearly a third from recession peaks.

Perhaps more important, young people who dropped out of the labor market in discouragement surged back in the past year with the acceleration of job growth and employers’ renewed willingness to take on young and inexperienced workers.

With businesses creating over 1 million jobs in the past six months, 1.3 million hopeful workers have returned to the labor force this year. The Labor Department reported that more than a half-million just last month were ages 16 to 24.

Doors open to graduates

Young workers are finding good reason for optimism. A study this month from CareerBuilder and CareerRookie.com found that 57 percent of employers say they plan to hire recent college graduates this year. That is a significant increase from last year, when 53 percent were hiring people out of college, and a dramatic increase from the 44 percent who were hiring young people in the darkest months after the recession in 2010.

A survey of 100 human resources professionals by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement firm, was even more promising. It found that nearly two-thirds of employers plan to hire recent college graduates this year.

John A. Challenger, the firm’s chief executive, said the outlook is good for this year’s graduates. He noted that the March unemployment rate for the nation’s 16- to 24-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher who are not enrolled in school was 6.8 percent, down from double-digit levels during the recession and nearly equal to the 6.7 percent national average for all workers.

He suggested that employers have become more open to hiring young workers as business and sales outlooks improve.

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