Young man looking out the window (© Corbis)
Young Americans have known how bad the job market has been for some time. At least now they have a depressing point of comparison to assure them they're not just wallowing in self pity.

David Leonhardt, The New York Times Washington bureau chief, notes that as recently as 2000, the U.S. had the lowest unemployment rate for people ages 25 to 34 years old among countries with large, wealthy economies. Now not only does is the U.S. group's unemployment rate (26.2%) higher than in countries such as Canada, the U.K., France, Japan, Australia, Russia and Germany, but the Labor Department says it's also the only group in the U.S. that saw its average wages decrease over the same span.

College graduates in that group have a far easier time of it, with the official unemployment rate for those aged 25 to 34 sitting at just 3.3%. Still, with The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ranking the U.S. 16th in the world for its percentage of people 25 to 34 with college degrees, young Americans' education lags behind that of folks in other countries.

These reports just add to a deluge of bad news for fresh-faced job applicants. Right now, only one job is available in the U.S. for every three people who apply. The U.S. economy has regained 5.7 million of the 8.7 million jobs shed during the Great Recession. Roughly 65% of those jobs have been of the low-wage variety, though nearly 60% of all jobs lost during the slump paid middle-income wages or better, according to the National Employment Law Project.

The most common job in America since the recession is in retail sales. Those workers number 4.3 million (greater than the population of Kentucky) and make only $25,000 a year, well below the more than $45,000 national median wage.

While college students are still far better off than their less-educated peers, art school students and MBAs alike are being crushed by student debt. Deeply indebted doctorate recipients are seeking food stamps in increasing numbers. Roughly 284,000 college graduates are making minimum wage.

Even when graduates get a job, their debt doesn't get any less onerous. The Center For College Affordability & Productivity reported that nearly half of the college graduates from the class of 2010 are in jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree. A full 38% have taken jobs that don't even require a high school education.

According to The Associated Press, that has dropped the median wage for college graduates significantly since 2000. The line from graduation to the retail counter stretches so far that Starbucks (SBUX), Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and McDonald's (MCD) are now offering training courses that qualify for college credits.

So what do younger workers have going for them? According to Pew Research polls, a whole lot of optimism that the nation's future will be better than its past.

They'll need it.

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