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November 13. 2012 11:20PM

UNH research says underemployment persists among under-30 crowd


Breaking New Grounds barista Jenna Dimock, 25, of Dover graduated with a bachelor's degree in art therapy in 2009, but in order to work in her field she will need to earn her master's degree. After two years in New Zealand, Dimock is working full time at the Portsmouth coffee shop while she saves money for that next degree. (GRETYL MACALASTER/Union Leader Correspondent)

DURHAM - University of New Hampshire senior Alexis Sutera, 21, will graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in biology.

She plans to move home with her parents and start looking for a job before returning to graduate school.

She said she is not too concerned about her prospects after graduation, despite research that indicates underemployment persists, particularly for people under the age of 30.

Underemployment is defined as part-time workers in search of full-time work or working part-time because the hours of a former full-time job were reduced involuntarily.

According to research released by the Carsey Institute at UNH this week, underemployment rates doubled during the second year of the recession, reaching roughly 6.5 percent in 2009. The increase was equally steep in both rural and urban areas.

In March, underemployment was slightly lower in rural places at 4.8 percent compared to urban places with a rate of 5.3 percent. Justin Young, research assistant at the Carsey Institute, said he found this result the most surprising.

Young's research also shows that underemployment is strongly linked to education, with the least educated workers experiencing higher rates of underemployment compared to more highly educated workers.

Some area high school graduates said with the rising price of a college education and an unclear idea of what career to choose, they have opted to enter the job market instead, and so far, have been lucky.

Zach Freitag, 19, and Brandon Dion, 22, both work at Agave in downtown Portsmouth full time and live in apartments with roommates.

Dion spent two years in college studying psychology but left for financial reasons.

After leaving college in the winter, he said it took him a couple of months to find work, and he feels lucky to have landed where he did.

The two young men said they make "literally just enough" to sometimes be able to treat themselves to extra groceries at the end of a week, but they are not worried.

Dion said eventually he will go back to college - when he can afford it.

Freitag said he is happy not to be lugging around $250 a month in student loan debt and is not sure a college education is what he needs, as he is happy working in restaurant kitchens, which he has done since high school.

Breaking New Grounds barista Jenna Dimock graduated with a bachelor's degree in art therapy in 2009. She worked for a while as a wilderness counselor and then spent two years living and working in New Zealand. She returned to find the program she had previously worked for had closed due to lack of funding. In need of a job and living in Dover, she got a job at Breaking New Grounds and works full time.

Dimock said it is a great time in her life as she saves money to someday go to graduate school to earn the master's degree she needs to practice art therapy.

"I love working with the community, art and children. Unfortunately, people like myself have to spend all of our money to do that and then not make any money after," Dimock said.

Dimock grew up in Farmington and said after graduation some friends found work in their home town, others joined the military and some went on to college.

"It's an interesting generation, too, because everyone is still trying to figure out what they want to do, what makes them happy," Dimock said.

Dimock said she had a harder time finding work when she graduated from school in 2009, which is the time the research shows underemployment peaked.

Young said the study did not account for regional variation, although he is sure regional differences would present themselves.

"Even if you look at simply the rural-urban gap, you find there are differences there," Young said.

He said he hopes policy makers consider the research when addressing solutions for unemployment.

"Really what we're hoping here is that policy makers can look at this and say, when it comes to finding a solution to ending unemployment . we have to consider people who are underemployed," Young said. "Being underemployed in many respects has many of the same consequences being unemployed does, especially when it comes to finding a job in the future."

The research shows that the longer someone is underemployed, the harder it is for them to find full-time work.

Young's research is presented in the brief "Underemployment in Urban and Rural America, 2005-2012."

Current population survey data was used to conduct the study. It is the same survey the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses to determine the official national unemployment rate.

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Gretyl Macalaster may be reached at gmacalaster@newstote.com.



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