Halloween might be a month away, but that’s not what Bruins should be afraid of.
A new nightmare is on the horizon: rising unemployment rates in 2020.
For over a year, the UCLA Anderson School of Management’s Anderson Forecast has warned of a possible recession in 2020-2021. Given the drop in the stock market back in August that fed into recession fears, their predictions were seemingly correct. Despite this, its third quarterly report revised that the U.S. will likely fall just short of a sound-the-alarm economic crash.
But that doesn’t mean students are in the clear when it comes to their postgraduate job security.
The report predicted the average California unemployment rate is expected to grow from 4.1% to 5.1% a year from now – and that’s no minute figure. In addition, the report predicts that job growth will stall from the 200,000 per month California has seen to a meager 70,000. And even though California’s economy continues to grow relative to the rest of the nation, rising unemployment rates are going to hit us where it hurts.
And that means college students will be the ones suffering.
Our generation has essentially grown up with financial instability. But this year of living on the financial edge has lifelong consequences for students starting out with few assets and monumental debt. So despite September’s economic conditions that veer away from recession fears heard this past year from economists, students should continue to prepare themselves for a turbulent job market ahead. By shifting cultural attitudes toward traditionally profitable fields and making strategic career choices, students can avoid the terrifying uncertainty of finding a job.
Companies depend on a fresh wave of graduate recruits to bring in new skills and ideas, while college students depend on lucrative employment to begin paying back their ever-increasing student debt.
But even with 2020 vision, economists and career advisors alike don’t see much of that happening.
Christine Wilson, interim director of the UCLA Career Center, said that students can be especially vulnerable in an unpredictable economy because they don’t have resources to fall back on like others who are decades into their careers.
“The hardest time to be prepared for a recession is when you’re right out of school,” Wilson said. “Other people have had time to build their network, save up while employed and have contacts to fall back on during a job search.”
The more students lose their grip on financial security, the harder it will be to recover. And without assets to sell or employer-matched savings to count on, the world after the safety bubble of undergrad seems even more daunting.
Faced with a future wading through unavailable job listings, it’s a wonder students ever leave campus at all.
In fact, some choose not to.
During all recessions since the 1960s, enrollment in and completion of higher education has actually increased. Given mounting debt and dismal job prospects, students would rather stay in school to wait out the storm – all while developing skills that could help them become a more attractive applicant.
And it’s a strategy that seems to have paid off.
Professor and Director of the Anderson Forecast Ed Leamer found that advanced degrees have continued to lead to rising in earnings between 1980 and 2016, as compared to declining earnings from just undergraduate and high school degrees.
However, the higher a student chooses to climb in academia, the higher the bill they’re going to rack up.
“A recession is a period of limited opportunities, but it could be a way to invest in higher education,” Leamer said. “Student debt is fiscal child abuse, and it’s something the nation needs to address.”
In the past, students have taken the safe bet – finding STEM jobs with inflexible demand. After all, the world will always need doctors, engineers and technicians.
But not every student wants a STEM degree, and STEM jobs aren’t the only solution to job insecurity – especially in a market that values a flexibility in skill sets.
“Those fields can have less breadth of learning by just showing students how to mimic things,” Leamer said. “The future can be brighter when we don’t just concentrate in STEM, but in creative jobs and developing facilities that apply to any sector.”
That’s encouraging news for humanities students who have been told time after time that poetry won’t score them a job. Their creativity and ability to adapt their soft skill sets has been proven to win them the salary race in the long run over the short-term hiring opportunities STEM majors might have straight out of college.
Jackson Kuramoto, a second-year political science and economics student, has experienced the devaluation of majors in the College of Letters and Science during a rough economy.
“More jobs are requiring tech backgrounds, like knowing how to code and program,” Kuramoto said. “Humanities majors in this job market are underappreciated, even though human creativity can never be captured by (artificial intelligence).”
However, not all the numbers are disheartening. Productivity growth and payroll job creation figures for California are actually growing, putting into question how imminent these concerns are.
Whether it happens tomorrow or two decades later, recessions and high unemployment eras are an inevitability of every student’s life. Our childhood was marked by seeing the recession’s impact on our families, so the least we could do is learn from the past and be safe rather than sorry.
Ultimately, innovation and flexibility – not the names of students’ majors – will be what protects job security in the long run. When faced with an impending market that isn’t kind to any major or background, students need to have both the attitude and aptitude to endure.
Students shouldn’t settle for a career they don’t want, but in the shadow of a recession, some sacrifices have to be made. But even with a dismal outlook, students have more options than they might think – so long as they’re willing to try new sectors and plan for the long haul.
The future might not be as bad as the numbers point to. After all, life – and the economy – is unpredictable.
But in some ways, that’s much more terrifying than any nightmare.