6 Ways Today’s College Grads are Better Off than the Class of 2009

If you graduated from college in 2009, there’s a good chance you struggled to find a job, eventually found one that paid half of what you were expecting to earn, and had to move back in with your parents. The economy lost 5 million jobs that year. The unemployment rate hit 10%. Employers were laying off workers in droves, not hiring.

Today’s graduates will enter a very different job market. The economy has added more than 2 million jobs each of the last eight years, with almost 2.7 million new jobs added in 2018. The unemployment rate is now 3.6 percent—the lowest rate in almost 50 years. There are about 7.5 million job openings—that’s over a million more openings than unemployed job seekers.

New graduates will face plenty of challenges, of course. The two-thirds who borrowed for college each have about $28,500 in student loan debt, on average, and will soon have to start repaying it. At the same time, many will struggle to find affordable housing, as the rise in rents outpaces growth in wages. 

But on balance, today’s graduates have a great deal going for them. Here are six distinct advantages the class of 2019 has over the class of 2009. 

1. A wider range of opportunities

Rather than being concentrated in just one or two industries, recent job growth has been broad. There are not only many job openings at the moment, but many different kinds. Most sectors of the economy have added over 100,000 jobs each over the past 12 months. That means each job seeker has a better chance of finding a job that is a good match for his or her particular skills and interests. 

IndustryChange in employment, April 2018 - April 2019
Professional and business services535,000
Healthcare and social assistance523,900
Leisure and hospitality455,000
Transportation and warehousing176,200
Durable goods manufacturing152,000
Wholesale trade110,000
Financial activities110,000
Other services100,000
Educational services63,600
Nondurable goods manufacturing52,000
Retail trade-49,100
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics, released May 2019

2. Fewer skills requirements

During recessions, when there are many unemployed college graduates to choose from, employers tend to become pickier, demanding degrees and experience for jobs that don’t necessarily require them. In a tight labor market, employers are being forced to do the opposite—broaden recruitment efforts and provide more on-the-job training (OJT). 

3. More ways to find jobs

Today’s job seekers can browse millions of job postings across the country on their smartphones and apply to multiple jobs quickly and easily. They also have unprecedented access to information about the salaries, benefits, working conditions and office characteristics of companies for which they might want to work. That was not the case in 2009, when most job seekers had a far more limited view into how the job market worked.   

4. More ways to earn money

For graduates who haven’t found jobs yet and won’t see a paycheck for a few months, there are more ways than ever before to earn some money, gain some work experience, network, and build an online reputation. You can freelance on Upwork, TaskRabbit, Fiverr, YourMechanic, or many other gig economy platforms, and build up a portfolio of projects to show a prospective long-term employer in the process.  

5. More ways to gain skills

If job seekers want to make themselves more employable and compete for higher-paying jobs, they can find thousands of certification courses, many of which can be completed fairly cheaply online at one’s own pace. In recent years, the number of occupational certification programs and state licensing requirements has expanded dramatically. In some instances, these have raised the barriers to entering certain fields. But in others, they have made it easier to find information about quality training and to gain credentials that are valuable signals to employers. 

6. Better working conditions

To attract and retain talent in a tight labor market, employers are offering greater work-life balance in the form of schedule flexibility, telework opportunities, and perks. While the number of job openings nationwide rose by about 20% between 2017 and 2018, the number of job postings on ZipRecruiter offering flexible schedules or hours more than doubled, and the share offering perks rose from 25% in 2017 to 27% in 2018, and up further to 29% in the first quarter of 2019. 

Ultimately, graduating into a strong job market offers multiple opportunities to find permanent jobs, earn supplemental income, and gain training. Although student debt loads are higher, today’s graduates will have a better chance of being able to make their loan repayments. And although data from the Census Bureau show that the number of 25-year-olds living with their parents has continued to rise since the recession, today’s graduates may just find they don’t have to. 

Julia Pollak

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Julia Pollak is a labor economist at ZipRecruiter. She provides insights and analysis on current labor market trends and the future of work.

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