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9 Degrees of Frustration : New college graduates try to work it out amid bleak job prospects. Expectations are lowered, and part-time; and temp positions are facts of life.


After taking the last exam of her college career, Kendra Pfenning couldn't decide if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, or an even heavier one had settled there.

For Pfenning and the three women she shared a suite with at California Lutheran University, the month leading up to graduation was a blur of activity: finals, term papers, student government duties, recitals, packing. The four were so busy they had to tape episodes of "Melrose Place" and "Beverly Hills 90210" to watch later.

During a rare pause, one roommate, Staci Stouch, previewed the postgraduate life.

"I won't have a place to live. I won't have a job. I'll be $24,000 in debt, and my parents are anxious to get me out of their pocket."

Now, more than a month after graduation, those four women and a similar group of male roommates--three of whom graduated last year-- are still coming to terms with the demands of being independent adults--principally, finding jobs.

These nine young adults--three of whom are the children of Lutheran pastors--all come from middle-class backgrounds, and all attended a private, religious university.

But as a group, they are representative of that rather hefty segment of the recent college graduate population that is looking for work and meeting with little success.

None of the nine has secured permanent, full-time employment. And the three who are roommates from previous academic terms have been in the job market for a full year.

How an ex--roommate is doing is arguably the clearest gauge of the economy for many young adults. Newly minted baccalaureates may not be able to cite the latest Labor Department statistics, but they definitely know whether former roomies are festering in retail sales or knocking 'em dead at in R & D at a corporation.


Bryan Biermann, 23, of Simi Valley graduated last summer. He got married and moved to the Seattle area, where he and his wife now live with their baby boy.

"I feel the pressure of the job market even more now that I have a little kid," Biermann said. "I don't dwell on it, but I definitely feel it."

He landed a temporary job at Microsoft, and since February he's been shuffling through assignments in the licensing department at the Redmond, Wash., software giant.

"It's not something I would want to do for any length of time," he said. "I was aiming for marketing."

As a temp, Beirmann's identification badge is a different color than those of permanent employees, the self-described "microserfs." But the main difference comes when paychecks are opened.

Microserfs get full salary and stock options; Biermann gets a check from which a substantial portion of the money for his position has been paid to the agency that placed him.

"Even though it's better to raise a family here, I've thought of returning to (Southern California)," he said. "I'm more connected down there. I have lots of friends already in the working world."


One of them is Steve Foster, who shared a room with Biermann during their school years.

Foster is a pastor's son, looking bright and earnest from the top of his close-cropped hair to the freshly laundered cotton laces in his deck shoes. He used his biology degree to land a three-month paid internship with Amgen, the Fortune 500 biotech firm in Thousand Oaks.

He's hopeful of landing a permanent job, since Amgen frequently hires CLU biology graduates. If not, he has resumes in the pipeline.

"My brother-in-law does a lot of work in personnel," Foster said. "I sent him my resume for a critique. The first thing he told me to do was take my grade-point average off. I graduated with a 3.61, and I worked hard for it. But I guess it's like high school. Once you get into college, how you did in high school doesn't mean a thing. Once you get into the work force, nobody cares how you did in college."


Amgen was not the answer for Stouch, a 23-year-old communication arts major. She was the runner-up for a job in the company's public relations department.

She's been replaying the interview in her head.

"I felt like a stewardess in the blue suit and heels," she said. "The heels were a really dumb idea because I got nervous and wobbly."

She now lives at home in Lancaster while looking for work in Ventura County, where she can be closer to her boyfriend.

Her mother has told her it may take until September to find a job, a prospect that is hardly reassuring to Stouch.

Yet, three or even six months is not an unusually long job search, according to career placement counselors.

Hiring of college graduates has picked up, according to the College Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University in East Lansing. But the gain was just 1%, hardly noticeable, given that hiring declined 30% from the high in 1989.

"Students are really launching careers through contract, part-time and temp employment rather than entering as permanent hires," said Vernicka Tyson, director of the institute. "It's taking longer for them to get connected."


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