Locally, Lorie Logan-Bennett, director of the Career Center at Towson University, said demand has been strongest for majors within health care professions, such as occupational therapy, nursing and speech pathology, as well as for business, computer science and education majors.

Employment rates in the under-25 age group were lowest for black and Hispanic males, with only about a third finding jobs that require a degree, Sum said.

After years of advising students that it pays to go to college, Sum now said that "for too many kids, it's not paying."

The difference in mean weekly earnings is startling, he said — $740 a week for those employed in jobs that require college degrees compared to $458 a week for those in positions that don't require degrees.

"The mal-employed produce less, pay less taxes, collect benefits [such as Medicaid and food stamps] and are less likely covered by health insurance," he said. "So young people lose, and we all lose."

Young graduates also face potential long-term problems, said Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute. Entering the job market during a recession means not only low wages in the near term but also earnings instability and more periods of unemployment down the road, she said.

But there are signs of hope.

Towson's Logan-Bennett said she's encouraged by the number of employers competing to reserve space for career fairs.

"We had to start a wait list, and this is probably the first time in many years we've had that problem," she said. "From what we've seen from employer recruitment activity, the job market has improved. Each year we are seeing incremental improvements, so it is moving in the right direction."

Ryan Kim, a senior business administration major at Towson, credited his choice of major, his internship experience and early applications to companies last fall with his securing about a half-dozen job interviews. One led to a full-time job.

"It's hard to do an internship at the same time you're in school, but it actually helps," Kim said. "A lot of companies are looking for experience, and that really gives us an advantage."

The Rockville resident will graduate in a few weeks and in July is to start working for JPMorgan Chase (which was making some less-than-encouraging news last week with its revelation of a $2 billion trading loss). Kim will work as an entry-level operations analyst with the company in Delaware.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," he said.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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