Graduating into an Uncertain Job Market — Is Anyone Safe?

As the world faces one of the worst global recessions in history, upperclassmen graduating this spring are finding themselves thrust into an uncertain job market.

We all seem to know at least one person whose summer internship was cancelled or postponed; the loss of our precious internships have been endlessly memed on Facebook, and many F’s were indeed typed in the chat. Everyone has been affected in some way by the global economic recession caused by COVID-19. For younger students, the delay of internships has been just a small taste of our quarantined economy, but for our upperclassmen here at UC San Diego, this uncertain job market is a reality that they will soon face head-on.

At this point in time, although the fate of the economy as a whole remains unclear, certain industries have already taken significantly more damage than others. Industries such as transportation, hospitality, employment services, and travel have been hit the hardest because they are reliant on human interaction and leisure. 

Many other types of businesses that are suffering major losses are considered “non-essential,” as opposed to those that are “life-preserving.” Numerous big-name companies of the former category, such as Express, H&M, Olympia Sports, Sears, Walgreens, and many more, have been forced to shut down stores across the country, and many Americans are losing jobs as a result. According to ABC News, as of April 16, a shocking 20 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance in only three weeks, and experts believe it’ll only get worse. For many seniors, what was supposed to be one of the strongest job markets in decades to graduate into has become one of the most unpredictable.

Interestingly, the pandemic has affected every industry in a very unique way, and every major is looking at a very different market.

“So I’m an international business major,” Matthew Misogas, an Eleanor Roosevelt College senior, said. “So because of quarantine there is no international, there’s no between countries, they’re keeping everything very isolated. Granted, there’s aid, and we’re trying to cooperate with other countries in various ways. But as far as trade goes, my major’s in an awful position.”

On the other hand, Biology, the single most popular major at UCSD, is looking at a variety of potential outcomes. One particularly relevant field for these majors is the prospect of being part of a research lab, a large focus at UCSD. Most labs have completely stopped activity, and with the many financial challenges that universities and the government face, the amount of funding that labs will receive in the future remains unpredictable.

With every college major finding itself affected in some way, many upperclassmen are forced to either commit to their preexisting plans or attempt to switch paths on short notice.

“There’s a lot of pressure right now,” Brandon Lee, an ERC junior majoring in cognitive science, said. “My plan is still to work over the summer and then find a job for next year, but I’m worried I’ll have to go to grad school if I can’t.”

Although some may find success in temporarily escaping the job market through graduate school, it may not necessarily be a secure option.

As many students know first hand, universities have become chaotic with the coming of the pandemic, and this will surely affect the endeavors of many graduating undergraduates wishing to continue pursuing education. The logistics of many graduate programs still seem to be under review, with updates only coming bit by bit, and many admission results have been delayed. This delay could prove to have large ramifications in the career trajectories of many students, particularly those wishing to enter medical or law school.

 “A lot of us are waiting with bated breath because all of our applications for grad schools and jobs are essentially put on hold, and job offers have pretty much stopped, which sucks because our deadlines are coming up regardless of what happens” Avery Coble, an ERC senior majoring in marine biology, said. “A lot of us are just kind of waiting to see what’s in store for our future.”

Along with the programs themselves, many students may find their families in difficult financial situations as a result of the recession, potentially either dissuading them from applying or making them unable to afford the program altogether. The pandemic is likely to financially affect students and families in the lower and working class harder than any other social class, and many are even currently going through a housing crisis. Low income and working class individuals already face unique barriers to educational and professional opportunities, and it is likely that the looming recession will only make things more difficult. While it is largely advised that we stay patient and wait out the quarantine, many of those in this class may find themselves in a financial situation in which they cannot simply wait. Although UCSD is renowned for the social mobility of its students, such mobility may be difficult with the nation’s economic state during the pandemic, and many believe class gaps overall will widen

However, even after the economy starts to recover, those in these classes may continue to struggle from the aftereffects of the pandemic. Mark Muro, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution think tank, believes it is likely that the current trend of automation and machine learning replacing human workers will accelerate as a result of this crisis, because the sudden reopening of businesses will require many companies to find employees very quickly despite their declined revenues. He argues that this environment might encourage many companies to turn to cheaper, more efficient robotic workers that will replace blue-collar jobs, becoming another barrier to social mobility and education among lower-income students while potentially increasing jobs for those in the tech industry. 

Even amid the chaos and uncertainty of the job market, many point to careers in the tech industry as some of the few that will not only survive, but also perhaps thrive, as tech is one of the only industries whose market isn’t shrinking but actually getting bigger. Giants in this field such as Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple have largely benefitted from the world’s increase in indoor activity because it has given them an even bigger market to work with. Many students from UCSD will potentially be entering this industry or one related to it, as 17.9 percent of total UCSD students are studying an engineering major, with more than half of these students in the computer science and engineering or electrical and computer engineering department

However, although the hype for the tech industry is more prevalent than ever, is it really the endless repository of jobs that some believe it to be? According to Burning Glass Technologies, an analytics software company that uses artificial intelligence to model and analyze the labor market, job postings in the field of Information Technology went down by as much as 42 percent between March 2 and March 30. This is only barely lower than the nation’s overall drop of 43 percent. Similar fields such as software engineering, computer user support, and network administration have likewise had large drops in job postings. Although the tech industry as a whole may be thriving relative to other industries, that does not seem to indicate how many new employees they are deciding to hire, which perhaps removes the safety of even those majoring in a tech related field.

At this time, with even the mighty tech industry not being a perfect safety net, uncertainty seems to be an unavoidable part of the current economic situation for almost every upperclassman. Many had plans or career trajectories in mind that have since been struck off course. Among those I interviewed, anxiety and stress often came packaged with this uncertainty, and many feel as if they have little control over their future. 

“It’s a weird, stressful environment, not so much because of physical stress. It’s something a lot less tangible, kind of psychological,” Konami Masui, an ERC junior communications major said. “It’s one thing to just be scared of the things you don’t know, but this one carries a lot of impact because it directly affects whether or not we get paid … we’re basically isolated, looking at the same room every single day, and that makes it even worse.” 

With nothing but theories about what the job market will look like, it’s no wonder that many upperclassmen are anxious. At the moment, there isn’t much that those preparing to graduate can do to prepare for whatever becomes of our society. However, analyzing what has occurred so far and speculating on what may happen in the future can give us insight on the market, class, and maybe even ourselves.

Art by Susan Sun for The UCSD Guardian.