What The Job Market Will Look Like For College Graduates

May 25, 2020

As college students earn their degrees this spring, they are now facing staggering unemployment rates due to the pandemic. In April, Nevada’s unemployment rate was the highest in the nation at 28.2 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. KUNR's Jayden Perez talked with students and staff at the University of Nevada, Reno, about how they are grappling with the drastic changes to the workforce that are still unfolding.

Gabino Salinas is a fifth-year student at UNR. He is graduating in May with a Bachelor of Science in biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish. Before the pandemic, he was going to work in Reno over the summer, but now he has concerns.  

Gabino Salinas is a graduating senior at the University of Nevada, Reno. He now plans to work in Reno, Nev. over the summer.
Credit Courtesy of Gabino Salinas

“I am worried about job prospects after graduation because there's such a high unemployment [rate] right now that it’s going to be really competitive,” said Salinas.

Salinas is not currently working. If he doesn’t find a position at a nonprofit organization, which would be his preference, he said he would look for other positions where he could apply his biology degree.

“Even if I have to do any sort of work, I will settle for anything I have to do to pay the bills,” said Salinas. “But, I’ll usually keep looking for something that’s aligned with my personal mission.”

Even though the campus was closed for much of the spring semester, UNR has worked to provide graduating seniors with resume assistance and job guidance. Peter Martinez is with the Nevada Career Studio, and he works with a variety of college students to get them prepared for the workforce.

“We still want our students to have the opportunity to continue building those skills and continuing to gain that relevant job experience,” said Martinez. “To where when their preferred employer says, ‘Yep, we are going to be hiring once again. We have applications open.’ Then we want our students to say, ‘Yep I have the experience.’ ”

However, not all seniors are in the same position. Each profession has been impacted differently by the pandemic, which has caused confusion for some who are entering the summer without a position planned in advance.

“We do have a small handful of those who will be graduating,” said Martinez. “So one thing that I’ve also been hearing from them is that their current internship employers have been able to hopefully extend some hours into the summer. But then some folks are wondering, ‘Where do I apply to? Who’s actually hiring?’ ”

Problems with a turbulent workforce aren’t isolated to UNR graduates or this pandemic. Sankar Mukhopadhyay is a professor of Economics at UNR. He has studied data on past recessions and how they impact college graduates. Because data on the Great Recession in 2008 is still being collected, we have to look back a little further.

One such study published in 2010 is by Lisa Kahn, a professor of Economics at the University of Rochester. She researched a recession that occurred in the U.S. in the early eighties and people who graduated before, during, and after the event.

What she found was that those graduates didn’t have their job search impacted, but their wages did suffer. According to the study, wages could be reduced by a range of one to 20 percent. This effect is long-lasting, and the degree of the impact can vary.

“It’s not just that the effect is there for a year or two, and then when the economy gets better, the effect goes away, and you are back on track,” said Mukhopadhyay. “What she found was that even 15 years after graduation, the people who graduate during the recessions, they earn about two percent less than people who graduated during a normal year.”

It is important to note that this research was conducted on a recession caused by more natural economic forces, while what's happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an anomaly.

However, graduating during a recession doesn’t determine the outcome for all graduates. If graduates enter the workforce matched with the right employer for their skill set, then that can offset some of the negative effects. Mukhopadhyay also mentioned that this process is usually slow. Not everyone will find their match.

“Labor economists now think that why different people earn different amounts is determined by employer-employee matches,” said Mukhopadhyay. “And when you have [a smaller] number of jobs, then simply the matches are not as good.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nevada's April unemployment rate is the highest in state history.

As a note of disclosure, the license to this station is owned by the Board of Regents for the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Jayden Perez is a junior studying at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

The image included in this story is courtesy of Flazingo.