Brianna D’Amico, 23, researches jobs at her apartment in Washington on Tuesday. After graduating from Marymount University last year, D’Amico landed a great job; a job that she said she loved. But three months ago, the 23-year-old was let go because of restructuring. - AP

20-something and laid off

NEW YORK — Molly Stach thought she was doing everything right until she got laid off from her public relations job in December. Since then, the 26-year-old has been struggling with self-doubt.

"Why don't they want to hire me?" she asked of the companies not responding to the resumes she sends out each week. "I went through four years of college, graduated. You get praised while you are working and then all the sudden you are not employable."

For 20-somethings who are losing their first or second jobs because of the recession, the economic downturn has been an especially bitter pill. Many of them have been raised to believe they can do anything and be anything, and are finding their high expectations dashed.

"Many were raised to believe that the world was their oyster," said Alexandra Robbins, author of "Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis." "And in this kind of economy, that's just not the case."

The national unemployment rate for people ages 20 to 24 was 12.9 percent in February, up from 9 percent a year ago and higher than the overall unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those ages 25 to 29, the rate — not seasonally adjusted — was 10.6 percent.

Getting laid off is a humbling experience for Gen Yers, many of whom have never experienced real financial hardship or big disappointment, said Nancy Molitor, a clinical psychologist in Wilmette, Ill.

"A lot of these kids grew up thinking they were going to be able to have it all," she said. "They feel frozen just when they should feel excited and hopeful about the future."

While 20-somethings don't generally have the responsibilities of older workers, getting laid off is in other ways a harder blow because they are still trying to figure out what to do with their lives and are "ardent about doing something meaningful for a living," Robbins said.

In previous recessions, companies tended to let go of more senior workers because of their high salaries, said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. But he said younger workers are faring worse this time around as employers hold on to the workers who have knowledge, experience and better work habits.

Brianna D'Amico, 23, was the first to go at the high-end retail group where she landed a job in Washington, D.C. She had been there six months when the company restructured; everyone else had five or more years of experience.

"It really hurts to lose a job that you really like, that you were good at, that you were praised for being good at," said D'Amico, who is collecting unemployment. "For a while I felt so embarrassed I was laid off."

A growing number of workers over age 60 have have been returning to the work force and capturing jobs that would have gone to young adults, he added.

In some ways, growing up in a time of plenty has made it harder for 20-somethings to adjust because they have to learn new skills, such as budgeting, living frugally and staying out of debt, said Dr. Judith Orloff, author of "Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life." Still, she added, many have a youthful outlook that there's plenty of time to fix things and get back on track.

And D'Amico, who has cut out shopping sprees, has rented four seasons of her favorite melodrama, "The O.C." She also spends hours looking for jobs and hits the gym five times a week.

"I know something will come for me, something good is around the corner," she said. "Until then, I'm taking suggestions."

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