Frustrated young man © Sigrid Olsson, PhotoAlto Agency, Jupiterimages

Younger workers can't seem to get a break. Just as members of the Millennial Generation were trying to launch their careers, the economy fell into the worst recession in decades. Even now, with the economy gradually recovering, the obstacles don't seem to let up.

You'd think the picture for younger workers would be improving, with unemployment down to 7.4% for ages 25-34 from a peak of well over 10% in 2010. But try telling that to someone like Chad Heard, who's struggling to get launched.

Heard, 25, blames baby boomers at least partly for his slow career start. He graduated in 2010 from Augusta State University in Georgia with a degree in business administration, finishing with a 3.8 GPA, including dean's list honors and a prestigious college marketing award.

Filled with ambition, he went on 24 interviews in rapid succession, all for entry-level positions. Not one produced an offer.

"Employers kept saying 'You need more experience.' But the jobs I was applying to were entry-level positions," he says. "I have tons and tons of drive. I was like, 'Give me a shot!'"

Heard lives with his parents in Augusta, giving him the financial security to try a new strategy: working for free.

He took four unpaid internships, at an advertising firm, a historical-preservation group, an economic growth organization and a municipal redevelopment authority.

His fifth internship, at a property management and redevelopment company, came with a salary and ultimately turned into a permanent position. But he's still wondering how he'll move off the bottom rung of the career ladder. Happy as he is to have work, his job -- project management coordinator -- uses his marketing and advertising background only sparingly.

The problem, Heard believes, is that entry-level jobs, which traditionally go to recent college graduates, are now being offered to workers with several years of experience in today's highly competitive environment.

"In my opinion, this phenomenon (is) mainly predicated upon two things: the economy . . . and the fact that upper management is now retiring later in life. It's a ripple effect that is felt all the way down to recent graduates."

The story

Certainly, boomers, who make up a quarter of the nation's population, are retiring later. They're delaying retirement to rebuild depleted savings, make up for lost pensions and repay home-equity debt taken on during the free-spending housing boom. They are also staying healthy later in life than earlier generations, and some prefer to keep working.

Survey results help tell the story:

  • Most workers polled by CareerBuilder this year said they plan to keep working after retiring from their current employer.
  • Financial planners surveyed in 2011 by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants said half of their baby boomer clients were postponing retirement.
  • The average boomer now expects to retire at age 68½, according to Met Life's 2011 Transitioning into Retirement Survey.

But while the trend is clear, the impact on younger workers is not. A spate of media stories has popularized the idea that boomers stand between younger workers and their goals. But research doesn't bear that out.