Young professionals and recent graduates have struggled to find work in a sliding economy, but one area--Silicon Valley--has been relatively immune. Until now.
Silicon Valley companies that initially resisted the swooning of the economy are looking to cut costs and shed entry-level positions, and people in their 20s are finding a college degree is no longer their golden ticket to a dream job in high tech.
"I feel like I put in all the work (in school) to not have a job," said Jillian Crawford, 25, who's been looking for a marketing job with a tech company since she graduated with honors from San Jose State University in June.
Crawford has applied to about 25 marketing jobs without receiving much of a response from employers. She remains committed to finding a job in Silicon Valley and would be dismayed if she had to look elsewhere.
That may not be easy.
Silicon Valley has been hit hard by the global economic crisis as tech companies, including Hewlett Packard, Yahoo, Sun Microsystems and Applied Materials, have shed 140,000 jobs in the last few months, according to Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a consulting group.
Instead, employers are putting an increased value on experience and tenure, something recent graduates lack. And many companies are moving seasoned employees around to fill open positions rather than add another person to the payroll, according to Kerry Kiley, Bay Area regional manager for employment firm Adecco.
"Things out there are very, very tough right now and seem to be getting tougher before they're getting better -- even for the educated," she said. Only engineers buck the trend.
It has been tough for Crawford. She moved back home with her parents a little over a month ago to save money while searching for a job.
"I was thinking (it would take) maybe a couple weeks, maybe three weeks, before finding a job I was really interested in," said Crawford. "I am completely still shocked at how long it's taken."
U.S. unemployment statistics show Crawford has plenty of company. Americans between 20 and 29 years old have the highest unemployment rate of any age group, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The unemployment rate for Americans ages 25 to 29 years-old jumped to 7.3 percent in November from 5 percent a year earlier, while for Americans 20 to 24 it rose to 10.4 percent from 7.7 percent. The national unemployment rate is 6.7 percent.
Unemployment among young adults usually spikes during bad times, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Amar Mann. Unemployment rates among 20- to 29-year-olds rose faster than older age groups during the two most recent U.S. recessions, in 1990 and 2001.
It's also common for young Americans to head to graduate school or extend their undergraduate education rather than enter the workforce during tough economic times. Mann observed slight increases in graduate school enrollment during 1990 and 1991.
"Getting a master's or a PhD eventually does equate to a higher salary," Mann said. "Especially when your job prospects aren't that bright, you might be more willing to forgo two years in the workforce to get more education to increase your marketability."
Many college graduates in the Valley are grappling with the decision to take a service job or continue to hold out for a position that utilizes the skills they gained in college.
"I don't want to go into a restaurant (and work). I want to be able to use my degree," said Christine Chase, 24, of Campbell, California. Chase was laid off from her contractor job at AT&T in August and is struggling to pay her bills with her unemployment benefit.
With the holidays approaching and four fruitless months on the job search, Chase recently registered with a recruiting agency for help finding a job.
"I'm going to have to be a little more flexible now and take what I can get."
Employers will be more attracted to those who adopted a flexible attitude toward the job search and took advantage of open employment opportunities, regardless if the job required a college degree, according to Kiley.
"This is not the time that pride is going to stand in the way of your paycheck," said Kiley. "Sometimes you have to humble yourself."
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