KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Reid Browning counts himself among the fortunate ones.
After graduating last month from the University of Missouri, he's taking a job at Kraft Foods that has been waiting for him since an internship last summer.
"I was very lucky with the way that internship and full-time job fell into place," said Browning, 22, of Kansas City.
Browning said that with a job in hand it's easy for him to be positive about the job market, but his friends, even those who graduated in 2013 and are still unemployed, seem upbeat, too.
"They are starting to get interviews and calls coming in now," he said. "I have one friend who just got hired. We know things are getting better. We are just glad we weren't out there searching in 2008 and 2009."
Five years after the Great Recession made finding a job nearly impossible for many new college graduates, doors to employment appear to be opening a little wider.
"Things are definitely trending up," said Mike Theobald, the director of career services at Rockhurst University. "Our monthly job postings that come through our career services office are up by 30 percent. There are a lot more job opportunities today then we'd seen in the last couple of years."
That's good news for the 1.8 million college graduates just entering the job market.
A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that employers expect to hire more new college graduates this year than last. The report said employers plan to give jobs to 8.6 percent more graduates from the class of 2014.
And the pay should be a little better. The association's survey said the average starting salary for new graduates with a bachelor's degree is $45,473, up 1.2 percent from last year.
The not-so-good news? The national unemployment rate for young college graduates is 8.5 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. It was 5.5 percent in 2007 before the recession.
The underemployment rate – for those taking jobs under their qualifications or outside their field of study – is 16.8 percent, compared with 9.6 percent in 2007.
Last year, about 260,000 college graduates were stuck working at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, according to U.S. labor officials. That was more than double the numbers of minimum wage-earning college grads in 2007.
"The fate of recent college graduates is tied to the fate of the overall economy," said Alyssa Davis, a researcher with the Economic Policy Institute and a co-author of its latest study on the job market for recent college grads.
"We are still experiencing such weak demand for workers after 2007," said Davis, who called the overall job recovery "agonizingly slow."
"We hear stories about how much more difficult it is for 2013 graduates who are still unemployed to find a job than it is for people just now coming out of college," she said.
For new Avila University grad Nicole Jamour, the plan is to have a job by the end of July.
With a bachelor's degree in marketing and another in management, she has been applying online for six to 10 jobs a day in the Dallas area, where she wants to live.
For now, Jamour, 23, is working full time as a nanny, but she's in a better spot than she was last summer, when she worked four jobs: weekend nanny; lifeguard and swim instructor; public relations intern with a financial services firm; and marketing and communication assistant at Avila.
Jamour is hopeful about her job future. So are friends. Jamour said she has one friend who stepped out of school into a programing job. Another, who graduated from Yale University, is volunteering at the San Diego Zoo and hopes to get hired there in the fall.
It helps that many students are being more careful to select a major that meets the demands of the job market, said Jack Hunter, the director of career services at Missouri State University in Springfield.
Graduates with bachelor's degrees in accounting and other business fields, engineering, health care and computer sciences are getting the most attention from employers now, Hunter said.
Stephanie Chipman would add agricultural business management to that list.
"Our students are reporting that they are getting multiple job offers," said Chipman, the director of career development for the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. On top of that, she's noticed "more employer visits to campus, more job postings and bigger job fairs than we had in the past."
Emma Faist just graduated from Missouri with a degree in hospitality management and an emphasis on food and beverage. Someday she would like to own her own restaurant. Right now, she would just like a job.
"The main thing that I'm doing is trying to stay positive," said Faist, 22, of Belleville, Ill. "The job search process can be really frustrating."
She has been looking for a job at a restaurant or hotel for about nine months. Still, she takes heart.
She remembers cousins who graduated four years ago, and "every one of them came back home" without a job. But many of her classmates had secured jobs before they graduated this month.
"I know it's better now than it was then," she said.
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