WASHINGTON - With college commencement ceremonies nearing, the government is offering a modest dose of good news for graduating seniors: The job market is brightening for new grads - a bit.

But finding work remains tough for those just graduating. Many are settling for jobs outside their fields of study or for less pay than they had hoped for.

The Labor Department on Tuesday said the unemployment rate for 2013 college graduates - defined as those ages 20 to 29 who earned a four-year or advanced degree - was 10.9 percent. That is down from 13.3 percent in 2012 and is the lowest since 7.7 percent in 2007. The drop reflects the steady recovery in overall U.S. economic growth and hiring.

Americans who have college degrees are still far more likely to find employment and to earn more than those who don't. And while opportunities for new college grads remain too few, they're increasing.

"It really is getting better," says Jean Manning-Clark, director of the career center at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. She says more automotive and steel companies are looking at the school's graduates, joining energy and technology companies that have been actively recruiting for several years.

Last year's female graduates fared better than men: 9 percent were unemployed as of October, compared with 13.7 percent of men. Analysts note that the economy has been generating jobs in many low-wage fields - such as retail and hotels - that disproportionately employ women.

Other fields that attract women - including health care - weren't hit as hard by the recession.

The McKinsey & Company consultancy last year found that 41 percent of graduates from top universities and 48 percent of those from other schools could not land jobs in their chosen field after graduation.

Even in good times, many college graduates need time to find a good job. But researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded earlier this year that "it has become more common for underemployed college graduates to find themselves in low-wage jobs or to be working part time."

The Labor Department reports that 260,000 college graduates were stuck last year working at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. That's down from a peak of 327,000 in 2010. But it's more than double the 127,000 in 2007, the year the recession began.

"Every way you cut it, young college grads are really having trouble - much more trouble than they used to have," says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.

BY THE NUMBERS

10.9%

The jobless rate

for 2013 college graduates.

13.3%

The jobless rate

last year for

2012 graduates.

9.6%

The jobless rate for all Americans age 20-29.

260,000

The number of graduates in 2013 working at or below the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

SOURCE: U.S. Labor DepartmentEndText