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Half of all college grads are unemployed or underemployed

With the election less than two months away, an anemic labor market continues to leave half of young college graduates either unemployed or underemployed, in jobs that leave their talents and hard-won qualifications untapped and irrelevant.

Young adults with degrees continue to scrape by in low-wage jobs, working as bartenders, waiters or waitresses, retail clerks and receptionists — battering their hopes that a degree would pay off in the face of dramatically higher tuition and student loan costs.

Wages for typical holders of bachelor's degrees are down, hit by technological shifts that have hollowed out midlevel jobs throughout corporate America. Most future job openings will likely consist of lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who will attend to the personal and health needs of aging baby-boomers.

Taking underemployment into account, career prospects for bachelor's degree holders have tumbled to the lowest level in more than a decade.

The choices that young adults make earlier in life — level of schooling, academic field and training, where to attend college, how to pay for it — are arguably more important than ever before.

Geographically speaking, things have been toughest for young college graduates in the Mountain West, where the under and unemployed constitute roughly 3 in 5. Second hardest-hit include those in the rural southeastern U.S., including Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. Those in the Pacific region — Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington — fare little better.

By contrast, the southern U.S., and Texas especially, have a relatively plentiful supply of high-salary jobs for college grads just entering the workforce.

According to Northeastern University researchers, economist at Drexel University, and the Economic Policy Institute about 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were either jobless or underemployed, the highest level in that group in the last 11 years.

With state economies suffering through a prolonged housing bust, many young graduates show up at job placement centers in tears, having been squeezed out of jobs by their more experienced co-workers, according to job counselors. Now they have to explain to prospective employers the time gaps in their resumes.

When they do come, job gains go more often than not to workers at the top and bottom of the wage scale, at the expense of mid-level jobs previously held by holders of bachelor's degrees. Some studies show up to 95% of positions lost during the economic recovery were in middle-income occupations, such as bank tellers, the kind of job few expect to be as important in our increasingly high-tech future.