In a stark reminder of how the recession has damaged the employment prospects of young Americans, an Associated Press analysis found Monday that more than half of recent college graduates are out of work or toiling in unskilled jobs.

According to the AP's analysis of government data, about 53.6 percent of Americans who have bachelor's degrees and are 25 and under are unemployed or hold lower-wage jobs, like waiting tables or serving as office receptionists, that don't require a degree. That translates to about 1.5 million young people who have not, or not yet, gotten the payoff they expected from a college education.

Prospects for young graduates varied by region, the AP found. In the Mountain West, three in five young people were jobless or underemployed. Southern states tended to have higher than average proportions of students with good jobs.

College majors also correlated with different rates of employment. People who had studied liberal arts subjects like philosophy and art history were less likely to have found rewarding work than people who studied skills-focused subjects like teaching, accounting and computer science.

The major-related data is consistent with recent studies that have found engineering degrees to be the most lucrative, with humanities majors falling in the middle of the salary range.

The grim report comes at a time when American college graduates are holding more than $1 trillion in total debt, a sum that for the first time surpassed total U.S. credit card debt. President Barack Obama is urging Congress to ease that burden by preventing a planned increase in student loan rates, although he faces pushback from deficit-minded Republicans. 

Simply put, we're failing kids coming out of college, Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston and the man who analyzed the data, told the AP. We're going to need a lot better job growth and connections to the labor market, otherwise college debt will grow.