More Younger Workers Finding Jobs

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The job outlook is brightening for younger workers, who were hit hard in the recession and play a vital role in the economy.

Jobs for 25-to-34-year-olds increased by 116,000 to 30.5 million in February. Their unemployment rate fell from 9% in January to 8.7%, the lowest since January 2009, according to the Labor Department.

Just as important, the portion of Americans in that age bracket who were employed — known as the employment-to-population ratio — rose to 74.7% from 74.5% and is up from a 29-year low of 73.2% in July. In a normal economy, about 80% of 25-to-34-year-olds have jobs.

For workers overall, the jobless rate was unchanged at 8.3% in February.

Young workers were hurt more than most in the recession and its aftermath. Many employers laid off entry-level employees first and limited the hiring of new college graduates with no experience. Faced with an unwelcoming job market, many college grads decided to hunker down and attend graduate school instead.

In May 2010, the jobless rate for the 25-to-34 group was 10.5%, nearly a percentage point higher than the U.S. average.

In recent months, with consumer and businesses confidence improving, employers have grown more comfortable hiring younger workers, especially those who have advanced degrees, says Al Clark, president of Management Recruiters of Chattanooga, Tenn. "During the downturn, they depended on more tenured workers," he says.

Workers ages 25 to 34 are crucial to the economy because they represent the prime age group for household formation and for transitioning from renting to homeownership, says Jed Kolko, chief economist at Trulia, an online real estate service. They can help spark a housing market that's still feeble, but has shown signs of picking up recently.

Also, studies show that workers who start their careers in a severe recession typically endure reduced earnings for 10 to 15 years. "It has a residual effect through life," says Diane Swonk, chief economist of Mesirow Financial.

In 2009, Christian Rogers, 34, quit his job as an account manager for an advertising firm that specialized in residential real estate and enrolled in a two-year school to pursue his dream of becoming an advertising copywriter. He sold his four-bedroom house in Atlanta, moved in with his parents and took out a $70,000 loan to pay for tuition and living expenses.

A job as a junior copywriter in San Diego lasted just six months, but on Friday, Rogers got an offer for a copywriting job in Detroit that he plans to accept.

He says he'll rent at first, but expects to buy a house in the Detroit area in about six months. His salary will be substantially less than his account-manager pay, but he expects eventually to earn much more.

His objective, Rogers says, is to ride out the economy and chase his dream.

This storyfirst appeared in USA Today.