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Graduates enter uncertain economy

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Edward Jose, a recent University of New Mexico graduate, stands on campus last week. Jose is one of many recent college graduates searching for a job. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Editor’s note: this article corrects a quote from Roseanne Bensley, assistant director of the Center for Academic Advising and Student Support at New Mexico State University.

Edward Jose, freshly minted with a master’s degree in health education to go along with his bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology, is an aspiring public health professional.

But the University of New Mexico alum is living at his parents’ home and spending his days writing a screenplay.

“I’m trying to work on other hobbies so I can get something productive done, because I don’t want to waste my days,” he said.

Those graduating during the coronavirus pandemic are launching their professional careers at a bad time. Unemployment in New Mexico is 11.4%, and nationwide the rate is 13.3%, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s unclear when to expect a rebound, and experts suggest it could be years before the labor force fully bounces back.

A memo from economists with the state Legislative Finance Committee, prepared last week in advance of a special session that starts Thursday, forecasts that state unemployment may continue to rise through the third quarter of 2020.

The memo predicts small employment gains until mid-2021 and then a stronger recovery in 2022. But it cautions that the unemployment levels won’t return to pre-recession levels until 2025.

The Atlantic magazine reported last month that graduating into a recession can have long-lasting effects on young professionals. The magazine cited an academic paper titled “Unlucky Cohorts,” which found that those who graduated during a recession faced lower earnings and higher unemployment rates for 10 to 15 years.

There are signs that such troubles have already started. The magazine reported that job postings for entry-level jobs have declined 73% on ZipRecruiter in the past three months.

Also in the past three months, 22- to 24-year-olds in New Mexico filed unemployment claims at a faster-growing rate than some older demographics, according to state data.

People ages 22 to 24 filed 441 unemployment claims the week of March 7 and 9,500 the week of May 23, according to data from New Mexico Workforce Solutions.

The claims by 25- to 34-year olds increased from 2,245 to about 28,000 over the same period, according to the data.

New Mexico’s two largest universities don’t have data on how many of their recent graduates have found jobs.

But anecdotally, their field of study can be a major factor for job hunting during the pandemic, said Roseanne Bensley, assistant director of the Center for Academic Advising and Student Support at New Mexico State University.

“Hotel, restaurant and tourism management – obviously, they were hit the hardest. We had students that go to Disney; their jobs were rescinded. We have students who go and work for hotels; they are having a harder time,” she said. “On the flip side, our engineering students are robust. Our education majors are robust. … Finance and accounting, they are still doing just fine.”

Jose received his master’s degree from UNM in December. He started off his career by substitute teaching and tutoring part time and continuing research projects with his professors while also casting a wide net for full-time jobs throughout the region.

But before he landed a job, the pandemic hit. Since then, it’s been difficult to find a job opening that he could even apply for.

“There are fewer job opportunities out there being posted on a daily basis,” he said. “As much as I look, I can’t really find too many opportunities.”

Those with opportunities are trying to make them last.

Julie Campos, who graduated from UNM last month with a degree in physics, has an internship at Sandia National Laboratories that lasts through July. She is networking at the lab to try to find a way to stay on after that.

Campos, who intends to go to graduate school and pursue a Ph.D., said she had planned on taking a year off before grad school so she could travel to Europe and do volunteer work. The trip has been canceled, and she’s hoping for a volunteer position as a teacher in a low-income community in the fall.

“I do still hope that volunteer programs open up,” she said.

Jenna Crabb, the director of Career Services at UNM, said university officials don’t know how many of its recent graduates found jobs or internships directly out of school. The school sent out its regular exit survey to graduates asking questions about employment. But Crabb said few students completed the survey this year.

She said many recent graduates have participated in virtual workshops the school has offered that are specifically geared to job searching during the pandemic.

“I think many people who were on the presentations and workshops were wanting to get adjusted and stand out,” Crabb said. “They are motivated. ‘I need to get a job. I want to get a job. How do I do this?'”

Jose said he plans to continue to hunt for jobs and remains optimistic. He said he considers himself one of the lucky ones.

“I’ve been very lucky with this, because I’m living with my parents right now,” he said. “I know a lot of people across the world and even in New Mexico who don’t have the luxury I do, to live at home and not have to pay rent. It’s saved me a lot of money and a lot of stress.”

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