College Grads Entering the Jobs Market: Good Luck

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On September 8, President Barack Obama went before a joint session of Congress to propose his highly anticipated jobs plan. Calling it the American Jobs Act, he laid out a number of ambitious proposals to increase the national employment level.

The pundits have been out in full force, weighing in on the pros and cons of the proposal. There have been countless analyses on whether the bill (totaling nearly $450 billion) would meaningfully affect the unemployed or small businesses.

But very little has been said about what the bill means for graduating college students. Most would agree that this is not the ideal year to be entering the job market. Even with a college education, the risk of unemployment or underemployment (working in a job requiring less skill or educational experience than you bring to the table) is a real threat. Does the president’s initiative offer a glimmer of hope?

Here’s a breakdown of the proposed bill’s major points:

  • A tax cut for small businesses that hire new workers, along with regulatory reform making the process easier.
  • Money to keep teachers, fire and police workers employed and tax credits for businesses that hire recently returning war veterans.
  • Investment for infrastructure projects across the country.
  • Reforms to the Unemployment Insurance program as well as incentives for firms to hire long-term unemployed workers.
  • Payroll tax cuts to all working Americans.

The president’s plan, if passed by Congress, would provide an important stimulus to the economy (though he is careful not to use that word in today’s deeply partisan environment).  Nonpartisan groups estimate the plan could add almost two million jobs over the next two years and decrease the unemployment rate by a full percentage point. (Though it should be noted, the president’s initial stimulus plan of 2009 was meant to keep unemployment below 8% – it currently rests at 9.1%.)

But what does this all mean for college students looking ahead to entering the job market? Well, there is good and bad news.

First the bad news: with tax incentives to hire veterans and the long-term unemployed, there will be increased competition for an already slim job market. College graduates will need to distinguish themselves from the crowd in order to make their short resumes appeal to employers.

But there is some good news as well: for those interested in careers in teaching or public service, the plan aims specifically to save many on those jobs. For those interested in other jobs, the plan is designed to encourage small businesses to hire, ideally giving recent college grads the chance to work with a small company or start-up with potential for future growth.

It is important to note that simply having a college degree provides a huge advantage in the job market. Current unemployment totals for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher rest at 4.3% – significantly lower than the 9.1% national average.

But in the end, there is little reason a current college senior should put his or her faith in the government to solve the economic crisis by the time they are looking for a job. The prospect of the economy improving drastically or for there to be a hiring binge in the United States is slim for the time being.

Yet, neither should college graduates put their dreams on hold. If anything, the changing dynamics of the 21st century economy show the power of the self-made (un)employee. Whether it’s by taking a risk and joining a start-up or taking a much bigger risk and founding a start-up, college grads are finding ways to succeed amidst economic gloom.

Photo: The U.S. Army at flickr.com

Junior > International Studies > Johns Hopkins University

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