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College Graduates Of The Pandemic, Recession, Is It Too Soon To Compare?

Rearview of a student with a Graduation cap on.
Siam Pukkato
Adobe Stock
As the spring semester ends, a new batch of college graduates will be entering the workforce.

As new graduates prepare to enter the workforce, some are finding their plans flipped upside down courtesy of the coronavirus pandemic. As companies brace themselves for the economic downturn and unemployment rates climb nationwide, some graduates are struggling to find a job in their chosen field. Others question if this could be a repeat of the hurdles faced by those who graduated during the Great Recession. However, it might be too soon to draw comparisons between the two time periods.

Kaylea Skinner just graduated with a bachelor's degree from Florida State University. She majored in hospitality and tourism. Skinner says she spent her college career training to be an event planner, but now, large gatherings are being discouraged to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, and Skinner says jobs in event planning are drying up.
"I started getting a lot of emails saying that either they were having a hiring freeze or they just got rid of that position until further notice, like, indefinitely I guess because companies don't really want to have events," Skinner says.

Skinner is now considering what other jobs she can apply for, like marketing, but she says not many of those jobs are getting posted.
"Other than that like obviously, I could just do like a service industry thing because it is hospitality. I wasn't super interested in doing like restaurants or like things like that, but I wouldn't really mind," Skinner says.

But those jobs aren't easy to find either. Many hospitality workers are out of a job as restaurants, hotels, and bars have closed or limited services during the pandemic. Skinner's hiring challenges are similar to what Kristin Shimizu says she experienced when she graduated in 2007—right at the start of the Great Recession.

Shimizu got a teaching degree from Florida State University and was looking forward to working at a public school.

"I worked all summer looking for a job in the public school system. Supposedly being told that because I graduated from a Florida school that they'd hire, you know, people like me first, didn't get hired anywhere. I didn't get many interviews either," Shimizu says.

Shimizu explains while there was a teacher shortage in Florida, the recession was just beginning, meaning school districts were dealing with tight budgets and cutting down on money to hire new teachers. Shimizu was able to find a job at a charter school but says she didn't get the mentoring needed to feel supported through her first year of teaching. After hearing bigger cities needed more teachers, Shimizu moved to Seattle.

"Didn't find a job, didn't get a job, didn't get a single interview because I also then had to transfer my certification, people just didn't want to interview me," Shimizu says.

To pay the bills, Shimizu says she cleaned houses for about nine months. Afterward, she started taking jobs in early childcare, teaching Pre-K at private schools and preschools.

"It really took me almost five years from the time I left Florida to get back into the public school system," Shimizu says.

David Forte also graduated from Florida State University during the Great Recession.

"So it was disheartening for those few months of reaching out to those you felt somewhat confident you felt opportunities with them, and they just don't blame them. They just at that time weren't able to bring on additional staff," Forte says.

Forte says he had connections, and those allowed him to get a job eventually. He didn't list any long-lasting negative impacts the recession had on his personal decisions going forward. However, for Shimizu, she says the experience caused her not to get a master's degree and delayed her buying a house with her wife.

"The house we're living in we've only lived here for three years. We've only owned a house for three years, and I'm 35 years old," Shimizu says.

The Pew Research Center surveyed more than 800 young adults in 2011, asking how they felt about their long-term plans. Almost half said they took a job they didn't want to pay the bills. One-third said they went back to school due to a bad economy. And 31% postponed either getting married or having a baby.

"This kind of effect actually would last for 10 to 15 years. So it's a very long-lasting impact, a negative impact," Rong Hai says.

She's an assistant professor of economics at the University of Miami. Part of her research focuses on inequalities in the labor market, income, housing, and more. Hai says past research shows people who graduated from college during the Great Recession had lower initial wages and longer unemployment spells.

"So what you would see is that people who graduated from [the] recession, they tend to say that their health status is worse compared to people who graduated in the good situation," Hai says.

However, Hai says people have to be careful about how much information they borrow from the Great Recession and apply it to the current economic downturn.

"There is so much uncertainty. We need to see how deep is the impact of the lockdown. How deep is the impact of the COVID-19 virus on the economic activity, on people's spending patterns, on the overall health of the economy," Hai says.

Research on the long-term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing. But for Skinner, the recent grad introduced earlier in this story, says she plans to move to Houston, Texas, to find a job out there.