Yesterday (November 2, 2010) was a fascinating day in politics, with what may end up being the biggest House gain by either party since 1948. If you ask the Republicans, they’ll tell you that the electorate gave them a mandate to cut government and roll back the Obama administration’s health care changes and the nearly $1 trillion price tag. Democrats blame their poor showing on the economy, which is still struggling to create jobs. Unemployment is hovering around 10% right now, and most companies polled say their hiring will only modestly go up next year. The possibility of a double-dip recession concerns everyone, but impacts new employee hiring especially hard.
Will this historic shift in congressional leadership bring about a quicker return to normalcy for job-seeking recent grads?
I doubt it. I’d like to say yes, but from where I sit, the signs aren’t pointing in that direction. Many factors are at play here–some political, some demographic.
Politically, it will probably be harder to get anything done for the next 2 years now that no one party is in control of the whole thing. It may be an unfair characterization, but there’s some truth to the notion that Democrats should have accomplished far more than they did in the last two years. Even with complete control of the Executive and Legislative branches, and essentially an open-ended mandate from the public to fix the economic crisis, they still didn’t create enough change to impactfully lower unemployment or satisfy voters. But the Dems still control the Senate and President Obama can still veto anything he wants, so try as they may, the Republicans are hoeing a tough row. Likewise, Dems will have a harder time getting their agenda passed now that Republicans control the House. In general, we have to expect more gridlock in the next 2 years, not less. Any movement on the unemployment front will not be the direct result of this election’s changes.
Demographically, recent grads are very vulnerable. Congress can’t do anything to change the fact that there are millions of better-qualified Americans looking for anything that comes with a salary and benefits. So even if Corporate America opened up and created 500,000 new entry-level jobs in Q1 2011, the average recent grad will be fighting against someone with 10 years of experience in that industry. Unfortunately, that’s what long-term unemployment does to the market. It creates an oversupply of qualified candidates while kicking recent grads to the back of the line. It’s short-sighted, but reality.
No two people agree on how to define the Millennial Generation in terms of size or age. When does it start and end? How big is it? If I aggregated the data I’ve read, though, I’d say the Millennial Generation is either exactly the same size as the Baby Boomers or slightly larger. That’s a pretty powerful thing. Once the Boomers retire, so many jobs will have to open up (assuming we want to continue economic output apace). But because of recent events, lots of parents, neighbors and friends had to forestall retirement while they build back their savings. On top of that, people are living much longer, healthier lives, so “retirement age” is being redefined upward on the fly. Because of this, the natural progression of one generation retiring while another joins the workforce won’t happen as naturally.
Instead, only 19% of college seniors had jobs before graduation in 2009. Even in 2010, job growth is slight. “Glimmers of hope,” and “steady, but gradual uptick in employer activity” are phrases we hear all to often. College hiring looks to be up around 3 – 5% this year–much nicer than the 22% decline in 2009. But most of that improvement isn’t going to new professionals, it’s going to existing professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for college graduates under age 25 in April 2010 was 216% worse than it was in 2007. Though historically, the unemployment rate in that age range for college grads is more than three times better than those with only high school diplomas. While the college-educated aren’t the hardest hit, they’re still fighting an uphill battle.
One or two years from now, Corporate America will frantically be trying to address their aging workforce. Everyone knows it’s a problem now, but the worst economic climate in decades isn’t the right time to fix it. Even though the fastest-growing segment of our population is over the age of 55, the two most populous ages are 50 and 20, in that order. But it’s like the elephant in the room; everyone knows it’s there, but nobody’s talking about it.
So what’s a guy to do if the job market isn’t going to get much better in the next year or two? Stand out! I know, I know–easier said than done. But great candidates always rise to the top, and if you’re a standout student and leader in a good job market, you’re a standout candidate in a bad job market, too. So get good grades, build unique experiences, and practice interviewing like never before. And if you get a job offer, take it! (Assuming you haven’t applied to jobs you don’t want.) If you’re not getting any offers, find an unpaid internship, temp work, or part-time job to stay busy and keep skills sharp. And more than ever, the people who do get jobs are doing so through their networks, and consider professional networking a compulsory part of the search. So keep meeting people, and keep paying it forward. Eventually, it will pay off.
I don’t think yesterday’s results will change the way the job market rebounds, neither for new nor experienced professionals. But take heart! There are still a lot of great jobs for great candidates.