Jerome De Perlinghi for NPR
Morgan Oliver, 23, who graduated with a 3.82 GPA last May, is having trouble getting a job. She's not alone. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show college graduates between the ages of 20 and 24 had a 7.7 percent unemployment rate in January, nearly double the jobless rate of older grads.
Morgan Oliver, 23, who graduated with a 3.82 GPA last May, is having trouble getting a job. She's not alone. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show college graduates between the ages of 20 and 24 had a 7.7 percent unemployment rate in January, nearly double the jobless rate of older grads. Jerome De Perlinghi for NPR
About This Series
As the U.S. struggles with a deepening recession on track to become the worst in more than two generations, the impact is being felt across all states, industries and income levels. Meet some of the faces behind America's unemployment numbers. NPR will be checking back with them periodically as they hunt for that increasingly hard-to-find commodity: a job.
Morgan Oliver played by what she thought were the rules. The 23-year-old got good grades and earned her college degree.
It hasn't yet paid off. Although she graduated last May with an expensive degree from Columbia College in Chicago, Oliver can't find work. She had a 3.82 GPA; a degree in art, entertainment and media management; and high, high hopes for what was next in life.
"I was excited about the job search," Oliver says. "I thought I wouldn't have a problem getting a job, so it was going to be fun to be able to find jobs and apply for them. I thought I might even have the choice to pick — I might have more than one offer."
But after months of searching, her confidence is shaky. She's not getting interviews. These days, she rarely has the chance to impress anyone other than her boyfriend. They live together in an apartment on the North Side of Chicago.
'Lucky' To Get A Personal Rejection
The job search takes up big chunks of Oliver's day. She has started looking for work that has nothing to do with her education or background.
"This is my 'sent' box in my e-mail, which is not that full," she says. "I try to delete things. This is still a lot of jobs though: sales associate, retail management, great job, employment opportunities, desk receptionist."
She says she has sent out somewhere between 300 and 500 applications. They're each a little message of optimism. Maybe this job will be the job, a job. Her in box is filled with automated replies. She's lucky to get a personal rejection.
The only work Morgan has been able to land is as a dog walker. Most days of the week, she gets paid to take a pug out for a bathroom break. It doesn't come close to paying the bills. So her parents help her out with money.
"I kind of feel like the failure in the family, which is sad," Oliver says. "And I just want — my parents gave me a lot, so I want them to be proud of me. And I know they spent a lot of time and effort and money on giving me a good education and home and a good upbringing, and it should have paid off."
Morgan's mother, Libba Oliver, of West Hartford, Conn., says, "I think I've raised children that are independent and want to be independent."
Libba Oliver says Morgan's father calls her his "frugalista," because she doesn't ask for a lot from them. But jokes aside, she says it's hard for a parent to watch her child struggle.
"Morgan knew how to set her sights on a goal and get to that goal," Libba Oliver says. "And [she] was always able to do that in the academic setting. It's not proving to be so easy in the real-world, get-a-job setting."
That's the case for a lot of newly minted college grads.
College graduates between the ages of 20 and 24 had a 7.7 percent unemployment rate in January of this year, according to unpublished data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's nearly double the unemployment rate of older college grads.
Morgan does seem like the sort of person who should be able to get a job — she's warm and bright, maybe a little reserved.
Now she mostly fills up her time with the job hunt and running errands such as returning books and DVDs to the library.
"We just started going I'd say like two months ago because that's when we realized, 'Why aren't we going to the library? It's free and it's two blocks away,' " Oliver says.
She drops a few books and a documentary about Chicago into a drop box.
"More than anything I'm bored," Oliver says. "I'm bored of sitting around, not using my brain actively. In no way would I pick not having a job over having a job."
This isn't at all what she imagined 23 would be like. She was supposed to be working toward the next big thing: dazzling her family and friends with her accomplishments, on her way to becoming a successful adult.
It's a goal this economy is making much more difficult.