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High school grads face tough job market

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If recent high school graduates aren’t headed off to college in the fall, they’re going to have difficulty finding that first “real” job.

“It’s going to be pretty challenging for the next year or so,” explained David Penn, director of MTSU’s Business and Economic Research Center. “It’s hard to know what you need to be flexible about, the job you’re willing to do and where you’re going to live.”

The job market is challenging right now because the nation as a whole has lost more than 5.7 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, according to a report from U.S. Department of Labor Statistics that was released Friday.

Over the past year Tennessee has shed almost 40,000 jobs, mostly in the sectors open to people with only a high school diploma and little experience.

“The unemployment rate is on the rise here like it is in many places …” he said. “We have a rising unemployment rate, (but) it’s not quite yet double digits like the state is.”

The Nashville-Murfreesboro MSA’s March unemployment rate hit 8.8 percent, adding more than 3 percent over last year and up 4 percent since 2004. The national unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent in April.

Every sector has seen decreases with the biggest losses coming in construction and manufacturing. Both have shrunk by 11 percent in the past year, Penn said.

The one exception has been health care, which saw a 2 percent increase from February to March.

“The labor market in general over the last few years is hollowing out,” he said, explaining there are fewer mid-level jobs and more on the ends of the spectrum, either requiring little education and experience or advanced education and experience.

Penn said a recent high school graduate isn’t going to get into health care right out of school, because the industry requires some training and education even at the lowest level.

Most likely recent graduates will try for entry-level warehousing jobs and construction, which have been hard hit by the recession.

According to a Labor Department report from March, education pays off. Statistics suggest that income increases and unemployment decreases with education level.

So a high school graduate will make less on average and have a greater chance of being unemployed than someone with a college degree. In March the unemployment rate for high school diploma only was 9 percent, compared to 2.8 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree.

But there is a light on the horizon, housing construction has started to level off, even if manufacturing is still falling, Penn said.

And the national economy has seen a slow down in job losses, too. In April only 500,000 jobs were lost, compared to almost 700,000 in March.

“But with the stimulus starting to work through the economy, we may see more construction jobs come around over the summer,” he said.

With job prospects low, now is the perfect time to consider some college or technical training, Penn said.

“If I were a high school graduate and had any glimmer of getting any further education, I would do it. This is a good time,” he said. “And I’m not just saying that because of the business I’m in.”

Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or mwillard@murfreesboropost.com.
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BERC, David Penn, Economy, RCS
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