College graduates sit and read programs during the 2012 Syracuse University Commencement.
College graduates sit and read programs during the 2012 Syracuse University Commencement. - 
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Nick Stagno graduated from Goucher College almost three years ago with a degree in computer science and communications, and landed right in the thick of a lousy job market.

“I was looking for jobs in tech fields, office jobs, marketing, really kind of anything in that line of business, and it was proving super difficult,” he says.

So he’s working part-time as a line cook at a tavern in Baltimore. It’s a common tale since the Great Recession. More than a third of recent graduates are considered “underemployed” -- meaning their jobs don’t require bachelor’s degrees. But new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suggests this is not a new phenomenon.

Recent grads have struggled to find work right out of school going back two decades, according to the bank’s senior economist Jaison Abel, one of the report’s authors. Even so, he says, the search for good jobs has grown harder.

“What was interesting to us is that it started well before the Great Recession,” Abel says. “We see that there’s been an upturn in underemployment starting with the 2001 recession.”

Economists say starting out at lower pay can set workers back throughout their careers.

“It’s not just a short-term penalty,” says Carl Van Horn, director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. “It’s really a long-term penalty for the -- essentially the accident of having graduated into a bad economy.”

But Nick Stagno found out he likes cooking. Even with the relatively low pay, he plans to stick with it.

“It ended up being kind of like a really nice accident,” he says. “It’s definitely what I want to end up doing.”

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Follow Amy Scott at @amyreports