Job Market Jitters: UCSB seniors feel the pressure of graduating during a recession

By Amelia Buckley

“Know your skills and talents, and don’t be afraid to try on new ones; take a chance on yourself.” 

Those are the words of advice from 2009 college graduate Christopher Dunn-Rankin to the class of 2020. As someone who graduated during the last big recession, he acknowledges that he, like most of his peers, moved around a lot, worked odd jobs, and leaned on his support system. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has left all facets of our lives in freefall. For the class of 2020, this includes entering the job market, an already daunting task even without a global pandemic and recession. For many graduates, their post-college plan looks radically different than it did three months ago. 

Zoe Zaleski, a graduating global studies major at UC Santa Barbara saw her job offer disappear when the pandemic struck the U.S. “I had planned on moving to Seattle, but my job offer was rescinded due to COVID. Now it’s looking like I won’t have any money to live on my own or relocate as I had planned,” she said. 

Although graduates across the board have expressed disappointment that they will not get to formally celebrate their academic achievements with a handshake from Chancellor Yang this June, many are far more anxious about the economic repercussions of graduating during a global economic downturn. 

During the pandemic, the unemployment rate for college grads between ages 20 and 24 has soared to 17.2% and more than 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency. 

Many students are turning to graduate school to get some extra experience under their belt while the market recovers. “Grad school has always been the plan right after undergrad, but the pandemic has definitely reinforced my decision to pursue my master’s while the job market is stagnated,” said Jordan Kuchta, an English and Spanish major who graduated from UCSB in March. 

Although the first few years in the job market are volatile for most professionals, they are also critical. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, individuals experience 70% of their overall wage growth in the first 10 years of work. 

“The friends I have who took ‘real’ jobs typically didn’t spend a long time in any one position. They moved around a lot, taking employment as it became available,” said Dunn-Rankin, reflecting back. 

Today’s graduating seniors seem to echo these plans. Izzy White, a graduating communications major, is grateful that her current internship has extended her position into the summer, but she plans to continue looking for a similar job in her related field. 

Unfortunately, graduating during a recession can haunt students even after the market recovers. A Stanford study found that those who graduate during a recession earn less for at least 10 years than those who graduate during times of prosperity. 

According to Dunn-Rankin, some of his peers who delayed their PhD programs are, once again, graduating into an economic crisis. 

Even UCSB itself has a freeze on hiring at the moment. Graduating communications major and UCSB Arts and Lectures employee Mitra Djabbari was hoping to continue working for her alma mater after graduation, but was recently informed there was a hiring freeze due to a 20% budget cut at the university. 

For many seniors, the pandemic is an involuntary push to explore careers outside their field and maybe even discover new passions. Silas Collins, who is graduating from UCSB with a degree in engineering, is trying to stay positive by looking at the crisis as an opportunity to explore new interests. 

“I think most jobs I would be looking at in connection with my degree will still not be hiring, meaning I will have to find other things to do, likely unrelated to my career, until we are safely able to start opening things up again,” he said. 

So what does the immediate future look like for these graduates? Zaleski is taking professional skills courses to boost her resume and tutoring students online to make ends meet. Many are perfecting their cover letters and applying for the few job postings they see crop up. 

As most Isla Vista leases turn over mid-June, graduates will soon face the tough decision of whether to sign a new lease, or resort to moving back home. For those who are unemployed or underemployed, it’s not really a choice. 

“Moving home is just the only financially feasible option right now,” said White. “I’m grateful to have a place to land while I continue to look for jobs.” 

Emma Wiley, who is graduating with a double major in French and global studies plans to complete a viticulture apprenticeship in Napa, rather than move back in with her parents. “I have always been interested in the food and wine industry, so this is a great way to get some hands-on experience and even have some fun while my job search is up in the air,” she said. 

English and Spanish major Cameron Gordon had planned to move to Spain to teach for a year after graduation. Although her travel plans have been put on hold, she’s using the extra free time as an opportunity to teach herself to code and explore her art. She’s even collaborating with local breweries on label designs. 

“I’m playing with the cards I’ve been dealt,” she said. “It comes down to making the best of a bad situation.”

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