This spring, the class of 2021 will be the first cohort of students to graduate into a (mostly) post-pandemic job market, joining the class of 2020 as beta-testers for our disrupted world. For a generation already marked by an ever-blooming student debt crisis, the changing conditions of our economy have not changed the need for stable post-college employment.
Will this next batch of graduates, from Rowan and beyond, be able to make it through?
While acquiring a high-paying job in one’s desired field right out of college has always required effort and skill, the pre-pandemic job market had been improving. Prior to March/April 2020, unemployment had been the lowest ever since the mid-1960s; immediately after, it spiked to the highest value ever recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And it’s not just the United States that has been affected; the World Bank describes the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to be the largest worldwide recession since 1870.
According to the Wall Street Journal, hiring of recent college graduates has fallen 45% since the start of the pandemic — more than any other educational category. The statistics get worse from there: “those who graduate into underemployment are five times more likely to remain stuck in mismatched jobs after five years compared with those who start in a college-level job,” write Jeffrey Silengo and Matt Sigelman. “Ten years later, three-quarters of workers underemployed at the five-year mark haven’t progressed.”
Luckily for current graduates, unemployment numbers have nosedived, down to 6% in March 2021 from 14.8% in April 2020. Moreover, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) projects that 2021 graduates will only see a 0.1% drop in employment compared to their class of 2020 peers.
There is one catch, though: a Feb. 18 Bloomberg article suggests that one of the largest shifts in the labor market has related to the kinds of jobs that are available.
Things are looking up for fields in STEM and health services in particular. On the other hand, jobs that are down are in fields such as office support, customer service, production and food services. NACE also suggests that the tourism and hospitality industry will continue to be hard-hit after losing 3.9 million jobs between March 2020 and January 2021. Other industries, such as local journalism, will be hard-hit simply because many would-be small employers will not be able to recover from the financial toll of lost pandemic revenues.
These are trends which continue to impact people of color and women especially, which comprise a large portion of those negatively affected workforces. The numbers continue to capitulate pandemic-induced inequities, who have borne the brunt of workforce disparities from the beginning.
There is hope for everyone, especially those with access to acquiring new skills, but this is a job market that no one could have predicted four years ago when choosing majors and institutions at which to study. It is also a job market that reflects the deeply unequal mechanics of our society, and the systemic injustices associated with American employment. These are not small challenges to overcome; they will create unfair stumbling blocks for many of the brightest graduates, while continuing to unfairly privilege many others.
So whether or not they are able to immediately exit the pandemic — and their college years — with a job in their field, The Whit believes in the tenacity, competence and work ethic of all of Rowan’s graduating seniors. Employment reflects more on the world around us than on our individual talents.
After all, the class of 2021 has already had the courage and talent to emerge from some of the most demanding conditions that higher education could possibly create. Facing unprecedented challenges and tough situations is nothing new for these graduating seniors — they’ve been doing it for over a year now.
The Whit implores all soon-to-be graduates not to base their self worth off the results of their initial job searches. You have just done something great already. You will have time to find your place in your career. You will have the opportunity to be happy, even if your life doesn’t look the way you might expect it to right now. You did not waste your college education. You contribute so many wonderful things to the world and people around you, even if they are not always seen or appreciated. You are also more than what you can do for others.
Keep going. All applications you don’t send will be rejected. Continue to research jobs, personalize your resumes and cover letters for each one and reach out to hiring managers directly. Take initiative and hone your well-earned confidence. Set high goals and see what happens. It only takes one acceptance to begin your life as you want to see it.
We believe in you.
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