Good news for college seniors (and their parents): The job market for 2015 graduates looks like the strongest in many years, with employers looking to make significantly more hires than last year, many of them at higher starting salaries. Those early findings from Michigan State University’s annual survey of employers are in accord with other statistics showing that the job market has gotten stronger since the recession.
However, economists say the good news doesn’t trickle backwards to people who graduated during the down years. For instance, the Michigan State numbers show salaries for new engineers will be about $6,000 higher than they were for 2009 graduates.
"There is no way that those people who came in at 2009 are going to be at that salary," says Michigan State’s Philip Gardner, who conducted the survey. "It would take some pretty nice wage increases."
The Michigan State findings echo other recent data, says Brookings Institution economist Gary Burtless. So does the bad news for earlier graduates.
"There’s no doubt that entering the job market—either as a new college graduate or a new high-school graduate—at a time of high unemployment is not the best career move," says Burtless.
Those workers can see their wages stay relatively low for 10 years or more.
Shu Lin Wee, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, has studied the process by which recession-era grads lose out, in a paper titled "Born Under a Bad Sign: The Cost of Entering the Job Market During a Recession."
Her numbers show that when jobs are scarce, young people don’t get to hop around from career to career as much. Finding the first job is enough challenge.
"Even if you manage to find a job," she says, "and you realize that you’re not very good at that particular career, now you have problems switching jobs.
So you develop fewer skills and don’t get experience with other fields that might be a better fit.
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