Number of college grads making minimum wage up by 70%

Byron McKnight got his bachelor's degree in 2011 and works at a call center for $9.75/hour. He hopes for a career in law enforcement.

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Getting a good job after college could be harder than college itself.

284,000 college graduates were working for minimum wage last year, according to the Labor Department.

That number is down from its 2010 high, but there are still twice as many people with at least a bachelors degree working for minimum wage than there were five years ago. That number is 70 percent higher than a decade ago.

It is partly the result of an "education inflation" brought on by the economic downturn, according to Tom Halasz, director of the Career Center at the University of South Carolina.

"There's higher expectations from employers, and there's this inflation of educational expectations among all employers -- minimum wage and higher," said Halasz.

With more hiring freezes in place, employers can be pickier about who they do hire, making the job search all the more daunting for students like Vernice Morris.

"It gets very frustrating, and it's hard to kind of stay positive and focused when you get a lot of rejection emails," said Morris who is graduating this year with a master's degree in social work.

Many graduates who haven't yet snagged their dream jobs are resorting to low skilled labor, something the Wall Street Journal is calling a "troubling trend" and something U.S.C. grad Byron McKnight is all too familiar with.

McKnight finished out his football career in 2011 and graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice.

He now works at a call center for $9.75/hour.

"It sucks," said McKnight. "It's not the job that I envisioned myself doing."

For him it's a stepping stone as he sends out applications for a career job.

"I've just been sticking to my goals and wanting to get into law enforcement," said McKnight. "I want to just be a positive role model."

McKnight says he's been searching for a law enforcement job for the past two and a half years. As the share of the labor force with college degrees rises, Halasz says many college graduates are in the same boat.

"Employers have a need, and there are students looking for those jobs," said Halasz. "You would think it would be easy to bring them together. Rather than that, students have to work really hard, because employers have such high expectations. This is a result of the downturn. During the downturn, employers had extremely high expectations, and still hold students to those expectations."

Even if you are working a minimum wage job, that job will work to your benefit in the hunt for a career job, adds Halasz.

"One of the biggest challenges for individuals not working is it's harder to find employment when you're not working than it is when you are working," said Halasz.

For those who have graduated and don't think they had enough experience in college to put on their resume, Halasz says, look a little closer for transferrable skills you may be overlooking.

Students who participated in sports or other organizations can likely show that they have timeliness, teamwork, leadership skills, organizational skills, or the ability or follow direction -- all things that employers value and graduates can put on their resume.

The right transferrable skills might even come from minimum wage employment and finally lead to that career job.