Job prospects for the Class of 2018 are vastly different from 10 years ago

The following appeared in by Jillian Berman.

Some young adults who graduated during the Great Recession are still struggling Students graduating from college this year are facing a very different economy from those who left school in 2008.

As Anna Hallahan prepared to graduate from Georgetown University this year, she wasn’t feeling too much angst.

The 22-year-old already had a job lined up, a return offer from the government agency where she had interned the summer before. That meant she was able to enjoy her senior year and avoid the slog of recruiting events, cover letters and interviews that most of her classmates faced. Except for the typical stress that comes with finding a job after college, no one seemed too worried, she said.

“It was always like ‘Of course, I’m going to find a job,” she said. “The option of not finding one wasn’t even something that, in my opinion, crosses a lot of people’s minds.”

That is a vastly different experience from what many college graduates were facing 10 years ago. Whereas the class of 2018 is graduating into an economy on the upswing—the unemployment rate dropped below 4% for the first time since 2000 last month and hit 3.8% in May versus 3.9% in April—the class of 2008 entered the workforce at just about the time things started to go downhill.

‘I had no prospects’

Alicia Rozeboom remembers vividly the day in December 2008 when she graduated. As she prepared to leave her house for her ceremony, Rozeboom said she looked over at the TV only to find the news anchors discussing the high unemployment rate.

“I didn’t have a job lined up, I had no prospects,” she said. “I was sending out 10 résumés a week and literally nothing was happening.”
Rozeboom’s experience was typical of the challenges her generation encountered as they graduated into the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Faced with unemployment and underemployment rates that were climbing from their 2000s-era lows and only continued to tick up, the class of 2008 found little room for them in the hallways of corporate America. And so, as oft-documented, they moved in with their parents and worked jobs for which they were overqualified while, in many cases, coping with student debt.

Economic Policy Institute
When the class of 2008 was graduating college, unemployment and underemployment rates were ticking up from their early 2000s lows. This year, graduates are entering a job market as those rates are ticking down.

On the 10th anniversary of the first college graduation of the Great Recession, the economic fate— or at least the psyche—of many members of the class of 2008 remains tainted by that experience. A decade later, today’s college graduates are entering into a job market that looks and frankly feels different from the one their brothers and sisters graduated into. Looking at the fates of the two groups offers a glimpse into how much the economy has changed since 10 years ago—and what’s still the same.

“Young graduates’ economic prospects were pretty poor in the Great Recession and the immediate aftermath,” said Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. “We know that when you graduate into a recession or into a weak labor market, those effects can be long-lasting.”

Graduating during a downturn can take years to recover from

Tyisha Edwards is still feeling the effects of leaving college during an economic downturn. “I feel like now I just got into a career,” the 31-year-old said.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business with a focus on marketing, Edwards said it took her two years of sending out résumés to find a full-time job and, once she did, it wasn’t even in her field.

The weak economy at the time meant that Edwards likely wasn’t alone. Though workers without a college degree suffered most during the recession, many new college graduates entering the labor market were essentially “warehoused” for a period, not working at all or in jobs that didn’t require their degrees, said Jeff Strohl, the director of research at Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce.

“I think we’ve finally absorbed them,” he said.

Edwards did ultimately land a full-time gig, but once she did, she thought, “I’m never looking for a job again because the process was so awful.” She stayed in that job for five years. The experience was radically different from what she expected graduating would be like. “You’re taught, ‘Go to college, do well, you have that degree in hand and that should at least be getting you a foot in the door,’” she said. “And it just wasn’t that way.”

Flash forward to 2018 and Geneva Gondak is pretty confident her degree will get her where she needs to go—and she’s probably right. “If you’re a [bachelor’s degree recipient] hitting the labor market today, your prospects are pretty damn good,” Strohl said.

Gondak, 21, is hoping for a career in an environment-related field, but she hasn’t sent out any applications yet, and is instead networking and heading out on a three-month bike trip to support affordable housing this summer.

“I’m not super panicked honestly,” she said. “I might have a different mindset in three months when I’m not getting the job offers that I want,” she quipped, adding, “as of right now I’m pretty optimistic.”

This year’s grads aren’t preoccupied by the economy

In the lead up to her graduation Gondak said she didn’t think too much about how the economy broadly would affect her, in large part because it didn’t seem like it would. “I don’t feel like I’m entering a job market that’s going to immediately turn me down because there’s nothing out there,” she said.

Though Gondak will likely have better luck than her older peers landing a gig, not everything is rosy. Gould notes, “The class of 2018 still faces real economic challenges.” For one, rising college costs has meant that these graduates are leaving with higher student loan balances on average than 10 years ago.

What’s more, it’s still relatively common for young college graduates to be working in jobs that don’t require a degree though the underemployment level among this group, which currently stands at 11.1%, according to EPI, is beginning to tick down, Gould said.

Max Rothman is hedging his bets. Though the 22-year-old has a return offer from his summer internship in the real estate division of a major bank he has two side hustles—a tennis podcast and a nonprofit he’s building—and is also moving back home with his parents in part to save money.

“It is this weird time where we are in very much a peak in our economic history, but there’s been talk of a downturn,” he said.