The country is slowly beginning to recover from the effects of COVID-19. However, students need to pay close attention to the changes in the economy as they begin their job searches.
Kaj Gittings, department of economics associate professor at Tech specializing in labor economics, said it is currently difficult to examine the labor market’s strengths and weaknesses.
“When you look at the data on the surface, the (economy) definitely looks like things have improved and are getting better,” Gittings said. “When you peel back the layers of data and you get underneath the hood to see what’s really going on, however, it still is a little troubling.”
To fully understand the current economic situation, it is important to look at the comparisons between the economy before COVID-19 and how it has changed since.
In December 2019, the number of unemployed persons per job opening was at 0.8, indicating more jobs are available than unemployed people and are a sign of a booming economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, according to the same data, in April 2020- roughly a month into the pandemic- the number jumps to 4.6. This shows that within three months, the unemployment rate per job opening nearly quadrupled as most of the country shut down.
“In 2005 during the financial crisis, the number of unemployed people per job opening was more than six. It was really, really tough out there at that particular point in time,” Gittings said. “Never in my life did I think that number would ever be less than one like it was before COVID-19 hit.”
As of December 2020, the number of unemployment was down to 1.6, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Historically, that’s really good, that means when you’re looking for a job, there are less than two people looking for the same job. But when you compare it to the number before the spike (0.8), it means it’s twice as hard to find a job now as it was before COVID-19,” Gittings said. “That’s the whole thing with getting underneath the hood and peeling back the layers. Even though the numbers may look good on the outside, it’s still extremely tough to find a job right now.”
With the job market still reeling with the effects of COVID-19, many students are struggling to gain experience and begin their paths toward their desired careers.
“Everything is still so unknown right now,” Marcus Brown, a senior biology major from Austin, said. “I’m unsure of what to expect when I graduate at the end of the semester.”
The employment process has completely changed due to COVID-19, with many industries implementing remote work through virtual spaces.
Students are now networking online rather than going to events to network for jobs, Jay Killough, Career Center managing director, said. The virtual events can make forming connections more difficult.
The Career Center at Tech offers a COVID-19 resource page on their website to help students navigate their job search during the pandemic, Killough said.
“The Career Center has provided a lot of COVID-19 specific career-related information, so the new job searches and processes aren’t a surprise to students as graduation approaches,” Killough said.
With COVID-19 changing the way the job market looks, students have to adjust their search for employment and experience.
“I’m having to gain experience in the non-traditional sense by exploring opportunities that aren’t necessarily what I had expected when I thought about my future before,” Brown said. “I think a lot of seniors right now are just hoping for the best come graduation. At this point, we’ll take any opportunity that comes around.”
Students can expect the economy to continue slowly improving as more of the country opens back up, but it will take a while for anything to return to a resemblance of normal, Gittings said.
“You can’t leave anything to chance, especially now. The labor market is a wild animal and will eat you alive,” Gittings said. “Because there’s so much randomness and noise associated with the whole process, you have to take control of everything within your power and do the best you can.”