Another Graduating Class Faces A Workforce In Which Young People Are Struggling
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The job market seems to be on the cusp of a big recovery. Hiring is picking up, and the monthly unemployment rate keeps falling. But for young people, there is a lot of anxiety. Many students who graduated last year are still looking for jobs, and now a new class is getting ready to enter the workforce, too. NPR's Sam Gringlas reports.
SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: This Friday, the jobs report is supposed to be a blockbuster, but that doesn't mean much to Bao Ha. He's graduating soon from Macalester College in Minnesota, and in between his anthropology thesis and trying to cross items off his senior-year bucket list, he's been in overdrive, hunting for a job.
BAO HA: I've probably applied to, like, 130 or -40 jobs or something. I have not gotten, like, even, like, a email back or, like, an interview.
GRINGLAS: Ha knows finding a first job is hard, especially this past year. Last April, the youth unemployment rate hit almost 30%. It's improved a lot since then, but it's still at about 10%. Even knowing all that, Ha can't help but feel a little self-doubt. He's applied for all kinds of jobs in lots of cities.
HA: Maybe I'm applying to things that I'm not qualified for. Maybe my cover letters suck. Maybe my resume sucks.
GRINGLAS: Ha is the first generation in his family to graduate college. His school is having an in-person ceremony, so he's relieved his parents will see him walk across the stage. But there's still so much uncertainty.
HA: You know, I haven't given up. Like, I'm still applying. Like, I applied to a job right before this. I'm going to apply to some after this probably. I'm going to just keep applying to jobs until, you know, something hits.
GRINGLAS: When the economy gets bad, the job market is usually worse for young people. Economist Elise Gould says employers looking to hire have lots of options.
ELISE GOULD: And they're going to choose people with more experience. And so young workers are left out in the cold, and many are going to have a hard time starting their career.
GRINGLAS: Gould is careful not to draw too many comparisons with the last recession. This time, jobs are coming back a lot faster. But the scarring effects the last recession had on young people makes her worry.
GOULD: It took many years for some of those young, high school and college graduates to get their foothold in the labor market and to really get on a path to be able to start families, to invest and buy a car or buy a house.
GRINGLAS: Young people without college degrees fared even worse during the pandemic downturn. Many worked in sectors like hospitality and retail, where millions lost their jobs. Guadalupe Avalos is a senior at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. Last April, she was just a few months into a part-time job as a barista.
GUADALUPE AVALOS: I didn't use the espresso machine because I was still learning to use that one and it takes a minute. But...
GRINGLAS: When the shutdowns began, the coffee shop let her go. Avalos asked about jobs at a nearby grocery, a pizza place - no luck.
AVALOS: Yeah, there was a job at a McDonald's, but it was, like, 20 minutes away, and I don't have that kind of transportation available to me.
GRINGLAS: For lots of young people, part-time jobs aren't just a way to earn some extra spending money; that income determines whether Avalos will be able to pay college room and board next fall.
AVALOS: I really, really, really want to move out and go to a college dorm room, but if I don't have that money, then I might just have to stay home.
GRINGLAS: There are also students who graduated last spring and are still trying to start their careers. It's been a year since Erica Schoenberg watched virtual college graduation from her living room couch. Since then, she's struggled to line up a full-time job and had to move back home.
ERICA SCHOENBERG: Partway through the fall, I'd kind of accepted that I hadn't gotten a salaried job, and I wanted some - well, I wanted some more income, and I also just really needed something to fill the days.
GRINGLAS: So Schoenberg took a part-time job at a fabric store and teaches Hebrew school over Zoom.
SCHOENBERG: Let's go through some prayers. (Speaking Hebrew).
GRINGLAS: It's not the career in publishing Schoenberg imagined. Now she worries about the gap on her resume.
SCHOENBERG: My mom said she thinks I can put recent graduate up until the next people do.
GRINGLAS: But that's only about a month away. Schoenberg hopes the job market will bounce back, like economists say, and she can finally start her career.
Sam Gringlas, NPR News.
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