“Employers are still rebuilding their workforces in the wake of the Great Recession. Entry-level workers are an important part of the hiring mix, as they are needed not only to help meet immediate demand, but also to begin the process of shaping the organization’s future leadership,” Mr. Challenger said.
Even starting salaries for young workers are on the rise — up 1.2 percent from a year ago, he said.
But Mr. Challenger cautioned that finding a job still takes hard work and persistence. Job seekers need to engage in networking and face-to-face meetings, not just mail out resumes, and they may need to get their foot in the door through internships, he said. They also need to show flexibility by taking jobs that are not exactly what they are looking for but could lead to better opportunities.
“The job search will not be easy, by any means,” he said. “It is likely that they will be competing for entry-level job opportunities with those who have been in the workforce for one to five years. They may even be competing with older workers,” he said.
Mr. Rastenis, who was featured in a 2012 article in The Washington Times when he was unemployed, knows all about persistence and taking jobs outside his field in hopes of doing better down the road. His current job with Giordano Dance Chicago is an entry-level position with few paid benefits, but he says he is happy to have landed the job and hopes to parlay it into work for a major advertising agency or production company someday.
“It gives me experience and helps me pay my bills,” he said. A priority is to schedule surgery to correct a problem with his hands, Dupuytren’s disease, which he was unable to afford during many years without health insurance.
Being tough and aggressive during those down years paid off in the end for Mr. Rastenis and other young people he knows. “I had to toughen up and utilize my mind the best I could instead of being defeated” by the years of holding down restaurant and retail jobs while trying to glean experience in the arts through freelance gigs, he said.
Mr. Rastenis said many friends and classmates gave up on the job market and went home or returned to school. “A lot of lawyers from very prestigious schools are having just as hard a time finding really good jobs,” he said.
Those who showed perseverance and ingenuity are having more success, he said.
A global problem
Political leaders and economists have been particularly concerned about the soaring levels of youth unemployment caused by the recession, a problem that spans the globe and is even worse in Europe and the Middle East.
“The recent recessions in Europe and North America were especially damaging to workers between the ages of 15 and 25” — those emerging from high school, college or graduate school, said James D. Eubanks, a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis who co-authored a study on the global problem of youth unemployment.
It’s encouraging that the unemployment rate for young people has plummeted since the recession, he said, but problems created by the prolonged periods of unemployment will linger.
Millions of millennials out of work contributed to stagnation in the overall economy and created acute problems such as a drought of entry-level buyers in the housing market.
“Bad labor markets have repeatedly been shown to have long-lasting effects on youth in many different countries,” including reduced earnings throughout their lifetimes, Mr. Eubanks said. “The postponed plans and stalled careers of millions of young workers are a national concern.”