Voices of a Generation

Four years ago, I was an eager, giddy freshman ready to take on the world: I could never imagine I would be launching my life in the middle of a pandemic. But launch I must: So, each Sunday afternoon I find myself in bed, wearing the pajamas from the night before as I muster enough motivation to open up my laptop and start typing different variations of "entry-level positions," "Indianapolis" and "communications" into Google and LinkedIn.

I mark my favorites and apply to jobs that fit my qualifications and even apply for positions for which I barely meet the criteria because — why not? This is my new routine. Within an hour of searching, I typically have 10 new tabs of job listings on top of the 20 open tabs for what I'm calling Zoom University.

I'm doing everything I can to network, seek advice, and show up in the life I hope to build. The coronavirus pandemic has crippled me and thousands of other graduating seniors. While I'm hopeful that my search will turn up an opportunity sooner rather than later, young adults at large are facing a joblessness crisis that 10 or 20 open tabs won't fix. We need our U.S. Congress to approve a second stimulus package.

“Job seekers who face high unemployment rates at the start of their careers may endure lower salaries during the first decade of their professional lives, said Jesse Rothstein, an economist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who recently wrote a paper about the impact on college graduates in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Unemployment rates declined among all major worker groups by October. The rate was 6.7% (men); 6.5% (women); 13.9% (teens); 6% (whites); 10.8% (African Americans); 7.6% (Asians) and 8.8% Hispanics. The jobs picture for young adults doesn’t look great: The jobless rate for 20-24-year-olds was at 10.8% as of October of 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In  January 2020, the overall unemployment rate stood at 3.9%, but the job market has drastically shrunk for recent graduates since then.

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New college graduates need a chance. We may only have a little experience under our belts, but we are willing to work and learn.

“Graduating in the midst of a pandemic sucks, to say the least,” said McCauleigh Whalen, a Ball State University senior who is graduating in the spring with a degree in applied behavior analysis. “I feel extremely discouraged when thinking about how close I am to having to join the world of work.” 

New college graduates like myself and Whalen are entering the worst job market in over a decade. Increased unemployment means higher competition and the economic recession means lower starting salaries due to coronavirus. For many, it has caused them to rethink their career path.

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“With everything that’s going on it’s pushed me to consider other options,” Whalen said. “With little out there, I had to defer my job search, and I’ve decided to further my education and apply to grad school. I feel it’ll allow more time for me to figure the next steps and maybe the world will with this time return to some normalcy.”

With graduation comes student loan debt.

The average student loan debt is $32,731 according to Forbes magazine. I currently owe $25,025 in student loans. This is just another anxiety for recent graduates. How will students start paying back their loans with no job? 

In April, Congress offered some economic relief through the CARES Act.

Roughly 175 million American adults received $1,200 stimulus checks, plus an extra $500 per child under the age of 16. However, most college students were left out of this stimulus package because they were claimed by their parents or guardians as dependents on tax returns, meaning anyone aged 17-24 was ineligible.

There are an estimated 16.9 million students enrolled in undergraduate programs in the U.S. according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Many of us are employed while attending school. In 2018, 81% of part-time students were employed, and 43% of full-time students were working. This was the latest figure available. I am a tutor at DePauw University’s academic resource center. I work four hours a week earning $7.50 an hour. My paychecks act as pocket change, not a livable wage, which is something I could definitely use.

College students don’t have adequate economic support. What we do have is: no stimulus checks, high unemployment, decreased on-campus job opportunities and no agreement on a second stimulus package.

The CARES Act did set aside $6.28 billion for emergency grants to students whose lives have been upended by the coronavirus. While this effort was helpful and well-intentioned, it is not enough to stabilize college students’ entry into the economy. The incoming Biden-Harris administration could bring the relief we need.

Until then, I will do my part with each search, open tab and follow-up email at a time.