Optimism in the ‘jobless’ economy

The recession grants graduates the opportunity to follow alternative paths.

Nora Leinen

For those of you planning to graduate this spring, the finish line is finally in sight. Suddenly, you realize after four years of long, tiring work, and probably some play, that you still donâÄôt have a job or a concrete idea of what you are going to do when May gets here and that real world smacks you in face. On top of that, jobs are scarce. So, as tired as you are from finishing your classes, writing your thesis, doing research and trying not to slip up in the final moments of what people often refer to as the best four years of your life, you have to start an excruciating job hunt. âÄúI think last year, as the recession was in its worst months âĦ I worried how many [students] there were that were just kind of giving up,âÄù Sara Newberg, director of the St. Paul Campus Career Center, said. Newberg recalls a student who should have been able to get a job even in a tough economy. âÄúShe had a lot of talent, she had a lot of experience and she was saying, âÄòIs it OK if I just work as a waitress for a while?âÄô âÄù Newberg said. âÄúIt was like she wanted me to give her permission to work as a waitress âÄôcause she just didnâÄôt want to fight this fight.âÄù Within six months of graduation, 54 percent of spring and summer University of Minnesota graduates in 2008 had full-time employment, according to Becky Hall, coordinator of central career initiatives in the Office for Student Affairs. Of the rest, 11 percent were employed part-time, 1 percent had joined the military, 10 percent were still looking for employment, 18 percent were attending graduate school either full- or part-time and 3.5 percent were pursuing internships or various volunteer activities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said unemployment at the end of 2008 was 7.4 percent and current unemployment is 9.7 percent. So, when we put this all together, we can conclude that as upcoming graduates we are probably going to have a lot of time on our hands. âÄúWe have this idea that students have everything planned out and laid out at the time they graduate, and some do and some donâÄôt,âÄù Newberg said. âÄúSome kind of need a job or two out in the world to start understanding what they want to do, and thatâÄôs fair game.âÄù Eugene Lewis, a perspective graduate for May, has held jobs from pizza delivery to caller at a debt collection agency, but he is going to look for jobs after graduation that âÄúmesh with the outlook I have on life âĦ I want to express myself through writing.âÄù Lewis doesnâÄôt have a solid plan but hopes to do something related to his work as arts editor for The Ivory Tower, the UniversityâÄôs undergraduate literary magazine. âÄúHopefully, after a few years of working, your work experience will be more important than your degree.âÄù Maybe IâÄôm being an optimist, but the fact that I may not have the chance to work 40 hours per week for 50 weeks per year and must get creative to find something else to do is a blessing. Now, options like the Peace Corps, teaching abroad or volunteering while holding a part-time job are viable options and not only for the confused or ill-fated. âÄúI have some friends who are insurance agents and are working toward retirement at 30,âÄù upcoming graduate Stacy Boe-Miller said. Boe-Miller has three children and works part-time as a neighborhood liaison through the University. However, she still plans to pursue writing, mostly poetry and short story, after graduation. âÄúMy plan is to write, but nobody sees that as a valuable career,âÄù Boe-Miller said. The recession, with record unemployment, has put American ideologies of work to the test, and thatâÄôs good news for anyone looking to push the ways in which knowledge affects our lives. DonâÄôt make your education simply a stepping stone to work; make your work a continuation of your education. There are many organizations, both within and outside the University, that have programs for working or traveling abroad after graduation. Scott Daby at the UniversityâÄôs learning abroad center said programs for work abroad, like teaching English, have seen increased interest. Graduates in all majors may find volunteer or internship opportunities within the community teaching their expertise or lending a hand to community organizations. When pursuing alternative paths, Newberg does have a word of advice: DonâÄôt quit your day job. âÄúKeep your waitress job, âÄôcause you need to pay the bills, but keep your skills fresh.âÄù Newberg said. âÄúYouâÄôve just invested four years in this plan. If youâÄôve made a good decision about that, donâÄôt give up on all that just because you happen to be graduating with bad timing.âÄù The recession, while having its undeniable downfalls, grants us a chance, without criticism or social stigma, to take a few years and try some things out âÄî something most graduates might not have if the job market was more amiable. Be an idealist, work for a nonprofit, go abroad. Now is the time to commit to a cause or create something new. Maybe itâÄôs just the nice weather or the excitement of graduation, but carpe that diem. Nora Leinen welcomes comments at [email protected]