Economic doldrums dampen graduation-time moods

The market's slowdown has left Minnesota with 53,000 fewer jobs than it had last year.

Nathan Halverson

Graduation is finally coming for some students. But even in the celebratory atmosphere, talk of employment is a mood killer for many.

The economic slowdown has stripped the state labor market of 53,000 jobs since last year. And in the fourth quarter of 2002, Minnesota had 5,500 job openings that required a bachelor’s degree.

This academic year, the University alone will send approximately 4,700 undergraduates into this tight market. These people will have to compete with tens of thousands of other college graduates and Minnesotans with field experience who have been laid off.

“It’s been pretty brutal,” said Kyle Uphoff, the Twin Cities labor analyst for the Minnesota Department of Economic Security.

And while economists disagree on whether the economy is recovering, Uphoff said even if it is, the labor market will not recover simultaneously.

“Companies basically want to make sure the economy is in full swing before they begin committing to employment,” he said.

Nearly every sector has been affected, Uphoff said, but the manufacturing industry has been hit particularly hard, which might make it hard for engineering graduates to find jobs.

He said the health care sector is the only labor market going strong.

To combat the tough market, Uphoff said, graduates need to network.

Paul Timmins, lead career services coordinator for the University’s Career and Community Learning Center, agreed.

Timmins said networking is the best thing students can do to find a job.

Students should get creative and cold-call companies they would be interested in working for or ask industry insiders where they should apply, he said.

The career center does not recommend students do anything differently now that the economy has slowed, but it has seen an increase in students using its facilities, Timmins said.

On the bright side

At least one positive factor has come from the recession: Interest rates are the lowest they have been in decades, which means students with loans could save thousands of dollars during the course of their loans.

In fact, if the three-month Treasury bill, which determines student rates, holds its current value through June, the consolidated interest rate will be less than 3.5 percent.

“It’ll be the lowest rate ever,” said Jim Kennedy, associate director of the University’s loan program.

Kennedy said now might be a good time for students leaving the University to consolidate their loans, giving them a fixed rate.

With consolidated loans, students will continue to pay a low interest rate even if the national interest rate starts rising.

Conversely, Stafford loans have variable rates that change with the market.

Kennedy said interested students should visit www.loanconsolida tion.ed.gov, but he said student loan consolidation can only be done once, and he only recommends it for graduating students.

Nathan Halverson welcomes comments at [email protected]