(ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE) Alyssa Davis, Will Kimball, and Elise Gould — The Great Recession has had lasting effects on employment prospects of young people entering the workforce after graduating from high school or college. Despite officially ending in June 2009, the recession left millions unemployed for prolonged spells, with recent workforce entrants such as young graduates being particularly vulnerable. The slow pace of the recovery means that seven classes of students have graduated into an acutely weak labor market and have had to compete with more-experienced workers for a limited number of job opportunities. This is on top of the fact that graduates since 2000 have confronted suboptimal labor market conditions, resulting in stagnant wages and limited job opportunities. While recent improvements in economic conditions have finally begun to brighten young graduates’ job prospects, the labor market is still far from recovered from the Great Recession.
This paper’s title, The Class of 2015, is admittedly something of a misnomer, as we do not yet know the labor market outcomes of these graduates. However, the outcomes of recent high school and college graduates provide a good sense of the labor market conditions faced by the young men and women who graduate this spring. This paper focuses on recent high school (age 17–20) and college graduates (age 21–24) who are not enrolled in further schooling. We analyze employment, enrollment, and wage trends in order to glean the Class of 2015’s economic prospects as they start their careers.
Due to the progression of the economic recovery and a modest improvement in the unemployment rate, members of the Class of 2015 currently have better job prospects than the classes of 2009–2014. However, the Class of 2015 still faces real economic challenges, as evidenced by elevated levels of unemployment and underemployment, and a large share of graduates who still remain “idled” by the economy. In addition, wages of young high school and college graduates have failed to reach their prerecession levels, and have in fact stagnated or declined for almost every group since 2000.