A Sobering Forecast for 2002 College Graduates: By November, More Than 360,000 May Still Be Jobless. (Economics)

By Challenger, John A. | USA TODAY, May 2002 | Go to article overview

A Sobering Forecast for 2002 College Graduates: By November, More Than 360,000 May Still Be Jobless. (Economics)


Challenger, John A., USA TODAY


FACING a slowly reviving economy and competition from unemployed workers, nearly one-third of this spring's 1,200,000 college graduates could remain jobless six months after receiving their diplomas--a delay that may affect their earnings for years to come. Based on national projections, as many as 360,000 of them could still be looking for work as 2003 approaches. According to a long-term study, unemployment early in a career can be felt over a period of years because it delays the experience and training that typically lead to higher salaries.

The competition will be fierce for first-time job-seekers this year. Not only are there fewer openings, but the pool of candidates is bigger. In addition to their classmates, graduates will be competing with jobless people formerly in the workforce for one to three years, some of whom may be more inclined in this uncertain economy to accept entry-level pay.

Firms surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) plan to hire 20% fewer college graduates in 2001-02 than in the previous year, which could prolong postgraduation joblessness for 240,000 of the spring graduates. In addition, 10% of college graduates--120,000 this year--typically remain unemployed and are not enrolled in graduate school six months after graduation, according to informal surveys by NACE.

Competition from laid-off workers alone could extend the job search into the six-month range. College students are also facing the new business realities of increased outsourcing, record downsizing, and cautious employers wary of another sudden economic jolt such as that caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Some corporate leaders do not see the economy recovering until 2003.

Taking all of this into consideration, it might be conservative to say that only 360,000 college students will still be jobless in October and November, half a year after graduation. Those looking for work in a tough economy shall have to be more resourceful, willing to accept positions working odd or short hours and possibly starting out far from their chosen field in order to avoid the trap of unemployment.

When the job market improves, the first-class candidates will be those who have obtained any type of entry-level, on-the-job experience, even if it was not anywhere close to their desired job function. New graduates who insist on waiting to find a job in their field of study could become second-class candidates with reduced earning power when the market picks up.

A study by the Employment Policies Institute documented the reduced earning power for younger job-seekers who experienced prolonged unemployment. Researchers followed the employment status of a group of young men aged up to 19 from 1979 through 1993. Among those who endured at least 13 weeks of unemployment, delays in training and job experience reduced their average hourly earnings by more than one percent as long as four years after the period of unemployment.

Nevertheless, graduates should not be resigned to a long period of postgraduate joblessness. They should look where they would least expect to or want to--and where the least amount of competition for jobs might be found.

Graduates will simply have to work harder to find jobs or create them through increased resourcefulness. They will likely have to consider positions they may never have dreamed of applying for--jobs that are entirely unrelated to their career aspirations.

What college seniors must realize is that the first job is inconsequential in long-term career goals. The primary objective, at this point, is to get any job that will provide experience on which to begin building a solid resume.

First-time job-seekers in a challenging labor market will have to think differently than their classmates and find alternative entry points to their desired career path. They might start out working the night shift or making less money than they anticipated, but they will be in a position to succeed when the economic recovery lifts the job market again. …

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