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4 Jun 2010 EST

- by David Guzman, Staff Writer; Photography by Andy Schultz

A couple of weeks ago, when President Obama spoke to the graduating class of 2010 at the University of Michigan, he had a speech ready with a word count well in excess of 3,000 words.  He was obviously eager to cover a lot of ground – while the crux of the whole thing focused on the evils of partisan politics, he also took a moment to defend the health-care bill Congress passed in March, and even made reference to a certain oil spill you might’ve read about lately.

 

When it came time to talk about the kind of future his audience could expect after the mortarboards were thrown up and the diplomas were framed and hung, Obama’s words proved that there wasn’t really any nice way of looking at it.  “When you leave here today, you will search for work in an economy that is still emerging from the worst crisis since the Great Depression,” he said.  “These kinds of changes and challenges cause tension.  They make people worry about the future, and sometimes they get folks riled up.” 

There might be more to get riled up about than Obama had let on.  Some new data in a report from the Economic Policy Institute, titled “The Class of 2010: Economic Prospects for Young Adults in the Recession,” finds that the job climate for graduates is at its worst point since at least 1983, and that it might even be as difficult as it was at the end of World War II.  For the 9 percent of college students under 25 who will face unemployment after graduation, the only thing they’ll have to show for all their hard work is an average of $19,535 in debt for the loans they took out and have no way of paying back.

In fact, those are just the students coming from public institutions – those with degrees from private institutions have debts in the neighborhood $25,350.

 

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., which did its own study of job prospects for graduates, came up with information that didn’t make the picture that much brighter.  Its media relations manager, Colleen Madden, stated that even graduates who manage to get part-time jobs aren’t in the clear. 

“Graduating students have to begin repaying their student lenders, and they still haven’t found work or are underemployed – their entry-level or part-time salaries [are] insufficient to make payments,” she wrote in an e-mail.  “While students can claim financial hardship and delay payments, interest will still accrue, making it more difficult in the future.”

 

On top of the ordeal graduates will be faced with as they try to find work, they’ll also be in the same boat as millions of other Americans without jobs. “Entry-level workers will have to be incredibly aggressive and proactive in their job searches in order to compete with the millions of unemployed Americans by cultivating and using their networks – parents, professors, friends, etc. – meeting with recruiters, researching companies of interest and applying for many positions,” Madden wrote. “In a job market such as this one, no one can afford to sit back and wait.” 

If there’s any kind of silver lining to all this, it’s that for as bleak as the job market looks right now, it’s still a little better than it was a year ago.  Andrea J. Koncz, the employment information manager for the National Association of Colleges and Employers, pointed out that progress is being made, even if it’s difficult to see.

 

“Of the 2010 graduating seniors who had applied for a job, 24.4 percent had one in hand by graduation,” she wrote in an e-mail. “This compares to just 19.7 percent of the class of 2009 seniors who had applied for a job that had one in hand by graduation.” 

Still, even with the modest rise in jobs for graduates, things were much better only a couple of years ago. “In our Career Services Survey, respondents reported that 43.3 percent of their class of 2008 graduates had a job at graduation, and 68 percent had jobs six months after graduation,” Koncz wrote.

 

The 4.7 percent increase in jobs from last year doesn’t quite make up for the 23.6 percent drop from the year before. Of course, that hasn’t stopped people of all ages from going back to college in the hopes of finally finishing their degrees.  Dr. Phil Gardner, the director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, stated that this isn’t necessarily a bad idea. 

“If someone is already in a position or has had several years of work experience, obtaining a degree now would be a wise investment,” he wrote. “For those employed, it tells their employer, ‘I am working hard to add value to the company.’”

 

While there’s still hope for people who merely want to give their careers a small boost, it’s college graduates who have yet to get theirs off the ground who are in trouble.  What’s sad is that although lots of students take menial jobs to pay for their classes, they’ll probably have to hold onto them longer than they’d expected.  

Even though that’s more widespread now than it’s been in years, that shouldn’t suggest that just anyone with a degree could find work before this.

Actually, there’s a line Kanye West has on his 2004 album “The College Dropout” where he talks about a chance encounter with an old friend from school. “This n---a graduated at the top of my class,” he says. “I went to Cheesecake, he was a m-----------g waiter there.”

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