Graduates Once more Face Pandemic-Scarred Future : NPR

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College senior Bao Ha has applied for more than 100 jobs. So far he has had no luck. Hide caption courtesy of Bao Ha

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Courtesy of Bao Ha

College senior Bao Ha has applied for more than 100 jobs. So far he has had no luck.

Courtesy of Bao Ha

The job market is starting to roar, but for anxious college seniors like Bao Ha, that’s a very different reality.

“I probably applied for 130 or 40 jobs,” says Ha. “I didn’t even get an email or an interview back.”

Ha soon graduated from Macalaster College, Minnesota, and between his anthropology work and trying to cross items off his senior year bucket list, he spent hours creating cover letters and searching through job postings.

And now self-doubt has taken hold.

“Maybe my cover letter sucks, maybe my résumé sucks,” he says.

After many signs, the labor market is returning: the employment report was a blockbuster with more than 900,000 jobs created and a strong rebound in previously difficult sectors like restaurants.

The problem for students like Ha is that youth unemployment remains stubbornly high. Although the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds was well above the 27.4% rate in April last year, it actually rose to 11.1% in March. This was well above the overall unemployment rate of 6.0%.

Roaring back: employers create 916,000 jobs when the economy emerges from the onset of winter

This is no surprise to Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. When the economy collapses, the job market tends to be worse for young people, she says.

The reality is that while there are many cheaper college graduates out there, in an economy still recovering from major layoffs, there are also many more experienced workers desperate for jobs.

“When everyone else is equal, they will choose people with more experience,” says Gould of employers. “This is how young workers stay out in the cold and many will have a hard time starting their careers.”

Erica Schönberg would know.

She was a member of the Class of 2020 unfortunate enough to have taken the brunt of the pandemic.

A year after Schönberg saw her virtual graduation ceremony at Trinity University from her couch in the living room, she is back with her parents because she cannot find a full-time job.

Needing the income and something to pass the day, she took a part-time job in a fabric store. She also teaches Hebrew through Zoom.

It is a far cry from the publishing career she envisioned, and Schoenberg is annoyed by the gap in her résumé, which is growing day by day.

“My mother said she thinks I could get my youngest degree by the next few people,” says Schönberg.

Erica Schoenberg graduated from college in April 2020. After months of searching, she took a part-time job in a fabric store while teaching the Hebrew school on the side. Hide caption with the kind permission of Erica Schoenberg

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Courtesy of Erica Schoenberg

Erica Schoenberg graduated from college in April 2020. After months of searching, she took a part-time job in a fabric store while teaching the Hebrew school on the side.

Courtesy of Erica Schoenberg

The difficulty of finding that first job is even greater for young people of color, especially those without a college degree. Many worked in sectors such as hospitality and retail, where millions of people lost their jobs.

Millions are unemployed.  However, some employers wonder: why can't I find workers?

Guadalupe Avalos is a senior at Cass Tech High School in Detroit. Last April, she only had a part-time job as a barista a few months before the cafe closed and let her go. She didn’t even know how to use the espresso machine.

“I just learned to use this one,” she says.

Avalos asked about jobs in her neighborhood, such as a nearby pizzeria and grocery store, but kept getting turned away.

“Yes, there was a job at a McDonald’s, but it was 20 minutes away and I don’t have that type of transportation available,” she says.

Finding a job is important for Avalos: it may decide if she can pay for room and board at college next fall.

“I really, really want to move out and go to a dorm room, but if I don’t have the money, I might just have to stay home,” she says.

High school graduate Guadalupe Avalos lost her part-time job during the pandemic. Finding a new job would help pay for the college room and meals next fall. Hide image caption courtesy of Guadalupe Avalos

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Courtesy Guadalupe Avalos

High school graduate Guadalupe Avalos lost her part-time job during the pandemic. Finding a new job would help pay for the college room and meals next fall.

Courtesy Guadalupe Avalos

She works 2 jobs.  Your grocery budget is $ 25.  This is living near the minimum wage

And that suggests a reality for many young people. Failure to get that first dream job, whether in high school or college, can affect lifelong work experience.

Economist Gould says the 2008 global financial crisis may be an inaccurate comparison with the pandemic-ridden economy. However, it showed how difficult it is to recover from the setback of starting your career on the wrong foot.

“It took some of these young high school graduates and college graduates many years to gain a foothold in the job market, get down the road, repay student loans, start families, invest and buy a home,” she says.

Ha in Minneapolis has more to do with getting that first job. He is the first generation in his family to graduate from college and soon his parents will be taking his socially distant degree to see him graduate.

And while Ha isn’t sure what his future will look like, Ha still hopes the student loan debt, hours of study, and hundreds of cover letters sent will prove worthwhile in the end.

“I haven’t given up,” he says. “I’ll just keep applying until something hits.”