Deja Harris is excited for her friends as she scrolls through her Instagram feed. As she moves past cap and gown posts, she hits pictures of job offer letters. Two of her friends received jobs in Los Angeles and New York.
Harris, 23, was editor-in-chief of The Campus Chronicle, Alcorn State University’s campus newspaper, for four years; led a college radio show for two years; and worked several internships that ranged from journalism to media marketing. She doesn’t like to be idle.
“I spent all of last semester preparing for the after college life — that’s exactly what I’ve built it up to be, the afterlife!” Harris said. “I did a lot on campus. People knew that I was always doing stuff. Then to go from those positions to having none — now I’m just hoping someone will hire me.”
This summer, Harris will earn her undergraduate degree in mass communications and look for a job.
“People tell you all the time, employers want this but don’t want that,” ” Harris said. “But you get out there and you have all you were told they want in an applicant, and then you leave. They don’t tell you to not expect a call back.”
Shallow labor pool
The U.S. economy has been in a slow recovery since the Great Recession. In many ways, the job market that high school and college graduates like Harris will enter is better than the past seven years. But the unemployment numbers have not returned to pre-recession rates. For many graduates, the only way to enter the workforce is with jobs that underemploy them.
Unemployment occurs when a person struggles to get a job; underemployment occurs when a person is employed but is unable to fully utilize their skills and experience or work enough hours at their job. For example, a qualified worker may have a job but does not make an income high enough to pay for rent, transportation, groceries, childcare and other expenses.
Molly Bashay, an analyst for Mississippi-based Hope Policy Institute, affiliated with the
Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Credit Union, said that young workers can expect to have a much harder than average time entering the labor force.
“Up to about age of 25, the joblessness rate is generally doubled or tripled what the average joblessness rate is,” she said. In February, the unemployment rate for people under 25 years old was 10.5, six percent higher than the whole population. “That’s really consistent throughout municipalities, states and even nationally,” she said.
Bashay references the findings of a study by the Economic Policy Institute that found workers under age 25 experience greater-than average shocks to employment during economic downturns. Workers lacking on-the-job experience are likely to struggle finding entry level jobs in a constricted market.
This inability to gain entrance, coupled with a struggle to find adequate work hours at entry-level jobs, makes young workers more susceptible than the rest of the population to changes in the job market.
“Generally speaking, the economy is not going that well in to begin with,” said Darrin Webb, Mississippi’s state economist. “Especially here in Mississippi, we have seen modest growth. We have seen better growth than previous years, but still relative to other states it remains sluggish.”
There are many facets to unemployment. To account for structures like part-time work, the Economic Policy Institute’s analysis of 2016 graduates examines the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ U-6 measure of labor participation.
The U-6 alternative measure looks at the civilian labor force as the total unemployed population, all persons who have stopped looking for jobs and all workers unable to gain full-time employment. The rate is not a replacement for the unemployment rate, but rather a different measure for looking at other factors affecting the labor force.
Though the data from the Current Population Survey only goes back to 1994, it is clear that until about 2008 and 2009 underemployment was about 10 percent higher than unemployment. But in 2009, the underemployment rate grew to over 45 percent, 20 percent higher than the unemployment rate.
“It seems that businesses were able to be more selective,” Bashay said. “They had more options with hiring obviously because there were more people out of work. They favored people with more experience or additional education so jobs you could have gotten with some college before, now you have to have a bachelor’s degree and maybe even an advanced degree.”
After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi in May, Alexis Ware, 22, was accepted into the Newseum Institute’s Chips Quinn Scholars Program for Diversity in Journalism, which trains and supports young journalists of color. Through the program, Ware accepted an internship with NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington D.C.
Even though she networks with editors of publications in Washington, she wonders whether she will be able to find a good job after the internship.
“Every company has (a communication department) and I can work in that and write online,” she said. “Maybe that feels like a cop-out as a journalist, but I’m willing to put that on the table. I’ve even thought about getting certification to teach. … The main thing that would make me the happiest is being a writer. Whatever the main job is, it’s just to financially support myself so I can work on publishing a book.
“I always have it in my mind that things were bad but will continue to get better,” Bashay said, “but I’m still somewhat surprised that things are so slow still.”
On May 10, Bashay wrote a blog post that listed the EPI’s findings along with a possibility for curbing Mississippi’s problem. Her post includes a graph from Hope Policy Institute partner the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showing that most new jobs come from businesses already in the state. It said that growing in-state businesses make up more than 85 percent of all new jobs in the state created between 1995 and 2013.
“We need to incentivize local businesses to do more (and) hire more,” Bashay said, “so they can really capture the resources available to Mississippi before people are forced to move on for their own economic betterment.”