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LI’s college-educated millennials struggling at work: Study

Gregory DeFreitas, professor of economics at Hofstra University,

Gregory DeFreitas, professor of economics at Hofstra University, speaks at Nassau Community College in Garden City on June 18, 2015. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Long Island’s college-educated millennials are facing greater employment challenges than their counterparts nationwide and older workers here, according to a new study of census data by a Hofstra University professor.

The study focused on Long Islanders 18 to 29 years old in 2014. They have struggled financially, in part because of the rise of lower-wage jobs after the last recession, states the report by economist Gregory DeFreitas, a professor of economics at Hofstra and the head of the school’s Center for the Study of Labor and Democracy.

“Through no fault of their own, millennials have been transitioning from school to work during some of the most adverse labor market conditions in decades,” DeFreitas said in the study, which is expected to be published this week in Hofstra’s fall issue of its Regional Labor Review.

The analysis of Census and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that as recently as 2014, 43 percent of 25- to 29-year-old Long Islanders had earned a college degree that year, compared with 37.1 percent nationwide, and 33.5 percent in the average suburbs.

The percentage of millennial college graduates underemployed — working as cashiers, retail clerks or security guards, for instance — was 42.6 percent on Long Island, compared with 37.6 percent nationwide, the study said.

A decade ago, one-third of the Island’s college grads in their 20s were underemployed, a rate that was identical to the nation, the study said.

And local millennials’ earnings have fallen sharply, compared with their counterparts here in 2000. The average 23-year-old college graduate in 2014, earned less than 80 percent of what a 23-year-old college graduate earned in 2000, adjusted for inflation. That gap was $5,400 a year in 2014 dollars.

“I was surprised at how high [millennials’] underemployment was and how low their pay growth was,” DeFreitas said Monday.

He attributed the young workers’ underemployment to the predominance of lower-wage jobs here. “Because of an ample supply of desperate young people, you have lot more young people who are not as able to hold out for better jobs,” he said.

John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, said that the economic recovery was dominated by lower-paying jobs in the service sector. But he said higher-paying jobs that require degrees in science, technology, engineering or math, or STEM, are also growing.

“If you’re not in those areas, it’s going to be a lot more challenging,” Rizzo said.

Young people with college degrees still have significant employment advantages, such as a lower unemployment rate and higher wages than those without degrees, the study said. But the changing economy has had wide-ranging effects.

“Long Island has been less encouraging than much of the rest of the country in providing jobs for the young and affordable places to live, ” DeFreitas said.

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