The impact COVID-19 has had on colleges and universities in the United States was apparent when schools began reacting to the pandemic. Classes moved online, campuses went quiet and graduation ceremonies were shelved. But seniors ready to move from college into the professional job market suddenly faced a new dilemma. What happens to the job market now that the nation is experiencing a sudden, significant increase in unemployment?
Just like many of the pandemic’s impacts, the long-term effects won’t be known soon. But, for the moment, some recent grads are holding on and trying to stay positive.
Raegan Whiteside, a new College of Charleston graduate majoring in Women and Gender Studies as well as English, has already experienced a difficult job search. “[It’s] been pretty difficult,” she said. “I apply to jobs everyday, but I either don’t hear back or they say they aren’t hiring right now.”
Whiteside hopes to work in publishing now that she’s out of school. After writing for campus publications since 2017 and Skirt Magazine since 2018, she has more experience than some recent grads trying to break into publishing, but is still having trouble finding work.
“I think part of it is just the normal struggle,” she said. “Now, I just don’t know. Some people say they aren’t hiring because of the pandemic or they’ve cut down on staffing.” Whiteside was laid off from catering and retail jobs during the pandemic, but she hopes to get them back soon as she continues trying to start a career in her field.
Instead of applying for jobs, Samantha Jean Becker started her own wedding photography business after graduating from Florida State University last December. Many weddings in recent months were canceled due to the pandemic, but Becker told the City Paper her business has been able to adapt with a focus on elopements and micro-weddings.
“In the creative field, a lot of it’s mostly word of mouth, but it’s kind of hard to network in this situation right now,” Becker said. “I’ve been doing a lot of blogging and keyword research and all that crazy stuff.”
Just like many students passionate about their potential careers, Becker photographed weddings while attending FSU. Even though her business was prepared by the time she graduated, the pandemic did detract from some of her scheduled photo opportunities in 2020. Thankfully for Love, Samantha Jean, trending the smaller-scale events have kept Becker’s business afloat.
Page Tisdale, director of the Citadel’s career center, said her school’s at-graduation job placement rate is down roughly 10 percent from last year, which she considers a good number, given the circumstances. “What I’m finding is a lot of our students who had offers haven’t lost their offers, but the offers have been delayed.”
Jim Allison, the executive director for College of Charleston’s career center, said COVID-19 is having an “enormous” impact on students.
“Whether a student had a job on hand … or the student got the job during the academic year up until March 13, even those students have had their positions either delayed … I think there’ve been stressors for students that were ahead of the curve,” Allison said. “When you factor in all the students who perhaps hadn’t gotten an offer, or hadn’t fully begun their job searches, those students I think are especially stressed.”
Historically, college graduates have had higher employment rates than others. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported in 2018 that among 25-to-34-year-olds, 86 percent with a bachelor’s or higher degree found employment. For high school grads, the figure was closer to 72 percent.
Prior to COVID-19 reaching the U.S., the national unemployment rate was below 4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In April, the number of unemployed citizens soared to 14.7 percent — 7.2 million people. The number of people who reported being temporarily laid off increased to 18.1 million.
Between 2007-2009, when the nation experienced an economic recession, the employment rate for young adults was 73 percent, slowly climbing to 79 percent by 2018.
Certain industries have been hit harder than others during the pandemic. The BLS notes employment in leisure and hospitality has plummeted by 7.7 million jobs in April. Education and health services, which lost 2.5 million jobs, was the second-hardest hit industry.
The rate at which unemployment will drop is unknown for now, but some are emphasizing positivity. Frequent new jobs on the career center’s job portal and graduate schools adopting virtual classes can help graduating seniors, Allison said.