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Even More Uncertainty Faces Young And Unemployed

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Even More Uncertainty Faces Young And Unemployed

Economy

Even More Uncertainty Faces Young And Unemployed

Even More Uncertainty Faces Young And Unemployed

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Young adults have had an especially hard time in this economic downturn. The unemployment rate for those in their twenties is double that of the general population. And many young job applicants are finding themselves competing with older, more experienced workers for what used to be entry-level jobs. Meet two twenty-something women who are struggling with unemployment in different ways.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Positive news on the job front this weekend. The U.S. Labor Department says the economy added 216,000 jobs in March, and the unemployment rate dropped to 8.8 percent. But there are some caveats. There are still more than 6 million Americans who are classified as long-term unemployed - those who have been looking for work for 27 weeks or longer. And its not just more experienced workers who are having a hard time finding employment.

As NPRs Serri Graslie reports, it's a tough job market for young people, too.

SERRI GRASLIE: Madison Cox dreamed of a great life as a hair stylist.

Ms. MADISON COX: I thought, you know, Im going to find this really nice salon and - you know - Im going to be able to buy a new car, and all this kind of stuff. And that is totally not what happens.

GRASLIE: She hit roadblocks almost immediately after graduating from cosmetology school last year. The first obstacle was an apprenticeship. Most salons require stylists to do one before they'll hire them.

But Cox had a hard time finding one that worked for her. Most are full time, and they don't pay. But Cox is 24 and a single mom. She had her son, Sam, when she was 16, and says she can't afford to work for free.

Ms. COX: A lot of people who don't have kiddos, you know, that's OK for them, and they have the time to do that. But I have to be very selective.

GRASLIE: Cox eventually landed a paid apprenticeship, but couldn't keep up with the partying lifestyle of her co-workers. So she's been unemployed since October. She makes some money doing hair out of her house in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but says it's scary not having a consistent income.

Cox is just one of the thousands of young people without a job. The unemployment rate is 23 percent for people like her, who just have a high school diploma. That's over two and a half times what it is for the general population.

Cox knows that without her son, things might be easier. She'd be able to crash on couches, or get a roommate. But now, her routine has to center around Sam. She says it's important that he doesn't see her struggle.

Ms. COX: It's all about your game face. I think a lot of it is, I pretend like everything is OK.

GRASLIE: Looking back, Cox admits she was naive.

Ms. COX: I think I aimed too high, and my expectations were unrealistic. It's disappointing, you know, knowing that all these dreams that I had were kind of silly.

GRASLIE: Still, she hasn't given up on the dream yet, and thinks she may have found a way around the apprenticeship problem. Cox hopes she can skip one by becoming a cosmetology instructor.

But for many people her age, even a college degree isn't a guarantee. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, recent grads entered one of the grimmest job markets for young people in years. In 2007, over half of students had jobs at graduation. Last year, only a quarter of them did.

Mandi Jacobs was smart enough to know that her bachelor's degree in sociology wasn't going to bring in the big bucks. So she went back to school. But not grad school community college.

Ms. MANDI JACOBS: I did get a few odd looks.

GRASLIE: Jacobs is 26 now and two years ago, she thought her ticket was health care. Everyone, and everything, said it would be in high demand as the baby boomers aged. So she got an associate's degree in radiation therapy from a school in Indiana. By graduation, she had defined skills, and hours of on-the-job experience.

Ms. JACOBS: I thought I was great on paper. I thought I was good to go.

GRASLIE: She applied all over the country but could hardly land an interview. When a few of her classmates got jobs, she was puzzled.

Ms. JACOBS: I'm happy for them. I'm glad they got jobs, because we all deserve one. But it was - a little twinge of jealousy.

GRASLIE: Jacobs' bad luck may be the result of a simple supply and demand problem. While she was in training, the need for radiation therapists plummeted. Since graduation, Jacobs has been getting by with two part-time jobs.

But she finally got some good news. Jacobs' boss told her one of those jobs, in radiation safety, will turn full time in the summer. She's disappointed she won't get to work with patients, and it's not exactly the future she expected. But it's one she's happy with for now.

Serri Graslie, NPR News.

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