College Graduates Scramble For Full-Time Jobs

NEW YORK -- For David Cristello, the jobs are catch as catch can.

Cristello, 23, currently holds down five part-time jobs.

Come summer, when he starts a tennis camp in his native Natrona Heights, Pa., he’ll be at six.

Since graduating from the University of Pittsburgh last June, Cristello’s job search has yielded several part-time jobs, but no full-time work.

"The worst part of it is that I’m always worried I’m spread too thin," he says. "I’m never able to produce my best work at any one job."

While Cristello appreciates the freedom of not being chained to the same desk for 10 hours each day, he craves the stability and benefits associated with a regular, consistent paycheck.

Cristello is not alone in his quest to establish a permanent economic foothold.

Of the 700,000 jobs added to the economy between January and March of this year, Andrew Sum, an economist at Northeastern University, reports that at least 80 percent of these jobs are for part-time work. And of these part-time workers, Sum says that college graduates under 30 have weathered a disproportionate share of the burden.

"The younger you are, the worse you’ve been hit -- no question," says Sum. He’s studied the college labor market for the past 30 years and uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to arrive at his calculations. "It’s a catastrophe and there’s no other way to describe it."

Last year, during an average month, there were more than 9 million employed persons working part-time jobs -- even though they desired full-time work. And of these part-time laborers, workers under the age of 30 accounted for as much as a third.

Cristello and his classmates may be experiencing what’s known as bad economic timing.

"It’s absolutely true that people who start work when times are tough not only get behind, but have trouble catching up," says Paul Oyer, a professor of economics at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Oyer counts not only skill, but also luck, as essential components of a successful employment search.

Till von Wachter, an associate professor of economics at Columbia University, says it can take an average college student graduating into a recession up to 10 years to recover the wages they might have made during more robust economic times -- and possibly longer.

"Starting out, having a part-time job may not condemn you," says von Wachter. "But the key is being flexible and willing to make compromises in the short-term if better, full-time jobs aren’t at first available."

But Cristello’s difficulty in securing a full-time job is not for a lack of flexibility.

Depending on the given week, his time is split between providing support services to children with autism, working as a landlord, and teaching students how to play the drums. On Sundays, he sells refrigerators, mattresses, and stoves at his family’s appliance store. In any leftover free time, Cristello also works at Go Financial Aid, an entrepreneurial start-up, where payment is sporadic.

In all, Cristello brings in between $1,000 and $1,500 each month. His rent, car, utilities, cell phone and food add up to about $800 a month. Cheap rent in nearby Pittsburgh is his saving grace. Until he's 26, since none of his part-time jobs provide health insurance, he can still receive benefits as a dependent under his parents’ coverage.

Sum views underutilized 20-somethings like Cristello as indicative of a larger, more troubling pattern.

Recently, Sum and his team of researchers have unearthed a phenomenon they call the “age twist effect.” Over the past decade, between 2000 and 2010, they’ve discovered an upside-down effect in the labor market: The younger you are, the more likely you are to get thrown out of it. Historically, and in every decade since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began compiling such data, it’s been the exact opposite.

Additionally, if the labor market behaved like it did back in 2000, Sum says there’d be an additional 7.5 million young people working today.

"Doing something is better than nothing," confirms Sum, of the part-time job-hopping routine. But what troubles him even more is the tendency for recent graduates to find jobs outside of the college labor market altogether.

Specifically, of the more than two million college graduates under the age of 25, 700,000 have a job that doesn’t require a degree -- whether working in retail, bartending, or waiting tables.

Such work has lifelong, low-paying consequences. It results in college graduates not only moving back home, but staying there. Sum sees them delaying marriage and giving birth to more children out of wedlock as a consequence.

For now at least, Cristello feels luckier than most. For one, his mom took on more hours so that her son could avoid assuming any student loan debt. He also keeps his credit-card purchases to a minimum.

"As long as I hit my rent and have a little spending money, I’m solid," explains Cristello, in between cleaning carpets during his weekly duties as part-time landlord. "But if I don’t have something with benefits that pays decent money by the time I’m 26, I’ll be really disappointed in myself."