OPINION | Optimism in the “jobless” economy


For those of you planning to graduate this spring, the finish line is finally in sight. Suddenly, you realize after four years of long, tiring work, and probably some play, that you still don’t have a job or a concrete idea of what you are going to do when May gets here and that real world smacks you in face.

On top of that, jobs are scarce. So, as tired as you are from finishing your classes, writing your thesis, doing research and trying not to slip up in the final moments of what people often refer to as the best four years of your life, you have to start an excruciating job hunt.

“I think last year, as the recession was in its worst months … I worried how many [students] there were that were just kind of giving up,” Sara Newberg, director of the St. Paul Campus Career Center, said.

Newberg recalls a student who should have been able to get a job even in a tough economy.

“She had a lot of talent, she had a lot of experience and she was saying, ‘Is it OK if I just work as a waitress for a while?’ ” Newberg said. “It was like she wanted me to give her permission to work as a waitress ’cause she just didn’t want to fight this fight.”

Within six months of graduation, 54 percent of spring and summer University of Minnesota graduates in 2008 had full-time employment, according to Becky Hall, coordinator of central career initiatives in the Office for Student Affairs.

Of the rest, 11 percent were employed part-time, 1 percent had joined the military, 10 percent were still looking for employment, 18 percent were attending graduate school either full- or part-time and 3.5 percent were pursuing internships or various volunteer activities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said unemployment at the end of 2008 was 7.4 percent and current unemployment is 9.7 percent.

So, when we put this all together, we can conclude that as upcoming graduates we are probably going to have a lot of time on our hands.

“We have this idea that students have everything planned out and laid out at the time they graduate, and some do and some don’t,” Newberg said. “Some kind of need a job or two out in the world to start understanding what they want to do, and that’s fair game.”

Eugene Lewis, a perspective graduate for May, has held jobs from pizza delivery to caller at a debt collection agency, but he is going to look for jobs after graduation that “mesh with the outlook I have on life … I want to express myself through writing.”

Lewis doesn’t have a solid plan but hopes to do something related to his work as arts editor for The Ivory Tower, the University’s undergraduate literary magazine.

“Hopefully, after a few years of working, your work experience will be more important than your degree.”

Maybe I’m being an optimist, but the fact that I may not have the chance to work 40 hours per week for 50 weeks per year and must get creative to find something else to do is a blessing. Now, options like the Peace Corps, teaching abroad or volunteering while holding a part-time job are viable options and not only for the confused or ill-fated.

“I have some friends who are insurance agents and are working toward retirement at 30,” upcoming graduate Stacy Boe-Miller said. Boe-Miller has three children and works part-time as a neighborhood liaison through the University. However, she still plans to pursue writing, mostly poetry and short story, after graduation.

“My plan is to write, but nobody sees that as a valuable career,” Boe-Miller said.

The recession, with record unemployment, has put American ideologies of work to the test, and that’s good news for anyone looking to push the ways in which knowledge affects our lives. Don’t make your education simply a stepping stone to work; make your work a continuation of your education.

There are many organizations, both within and outside the University, that have programs for working or traveling abroad after graduation. Scott Daby at the University’s learning abroad center said programs for work abroad, like teaching English, have seen increased interest.

Graduates in all majors may find volunteer or internship opportunities within the community teaching their expertise or lending a hand to community organizations.

When pursuing alternative paths, Newberg does have a word of advice: Don’t quit your day job.

“Keep your waitress job, ’cause you need to pay the bills, but keep your skills fresh.” Newberg said. “You’ve just invested four years in this plan. If you’ve made a good decision about that, don’t give up on all that just because you happen to be graduating with bad timing.”

The recession, while having its undeniable downfalls, grants us a chance, without criticism or social stigma, to take a few years and try some things out – something most graduates might not have if the job market was more amiable. Be an idealist, work for a nonprofit, go abroad. Now is the time to commit to a cause or create something new.

Maybe it’s just the nice weather or the excitement of graduation, but carpe that diem.

Nora Leinen welcomes comments at nleinen@mndaily.com.