Class of '93 faces a cruel job market Many graduates settle for menial work or head back to school

May 21, 1993|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

It will be a summer of unemployed anxiety, menial jobs or expensive escapes for most of the approximately 19,000 seniors who are graduating from Maryland colleges this month.

Facing what many describe as the worst job market for new college graduates in the past generation, many newly minted baccalaureates are hard pressed to land one of the shrinking number of career-track jobs available this year.

Because of the job shortage, many graduates are settling for clerical or part-time work, or escaping the likelihood of rejection by traveling or enrolling in graduate school.

Although there are signs that the broad economy is starting to improve, area college counselors and recruiters said the job market is at least as tight as it was last year -- generally described as the worst in more than 20 years.

A few companies -- especially those in health care and computer services -- have beefed up recruiting. But many local employers said they were hiring fewer new college graduates because they have either reduced their staff or could find experienced workers -- laid off by other employers -- willing to take entry-level jobs.

Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics warns there will be about 200,000 fewer jobs than graduates each year for at least the next decade.

And a recent study by Michigan State University found the number of openings for new college graduates this year fell 2 percent below last year's dismal level, even though the number of new graduates remained steady, at about 1.1 million.

"It is heartbreaking," said Rea Johnson, senior employment representative for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which reduced its on-campus interviewing schedule this year.

Even the 1981 recession, in which unemployment rates were higher than today's 7 percent level, was not as bad for new college graduates, said Linda Gast, who runs the career counseling office for the University of Maryland at College Park.

"I'd guess only 25 to 30 percent of our graduates have jobs lined up right now," she said. "People are very anxious." Typically, at least half the students have jobs by graduation.

One of the anxious is Peter Armada, a 23-year-old political science and economics major who finished his course work at Towson State University yesterday.

Mr. Armada was the first in his family to finish college, and he said his parents are pressuring him to find a good job quickly.

"They say: 'You went to college, you should be a vice president. . . . You shouldn't have any problem,' " he said.

But though he has plenty of work experience, Mr. Armada says, he's also had plenty of problems persuading someone to hire him. "There are so many people who have been laid off who have experience who are accepting entry-level jobs," he said. "It is really kind of scary."

Scary, maybe -- but not unusual. The recession has only worsened a growing trend of underemployment for college graduates. A generation ago, one in 10 college graduates worked in a job that didn't require a college education. By 1990, that ratio had climbed to one in five.

So, Mr. Armada said, he'll start paying the bills this summer by mowing lawns. But he plans to spend his free time scouting for jobs.

Although it is depressing and embarrassing not to have a job after finishing college, Mr. Armada said, those feelings were mitigated by the fact he has plenty of company. Most of his school friends are also jobless.

Some graduating seniors are not even attempting to fight the DTC glut. Convinced of the likelihood of unemployment, Cindy Hooper, a 21-year-old senior at Morgan State University, decided to try to go directly to law school -- a route that is likely to land her in yet another growing pool of entrants.

A 1991 U.S. Department of Education survey found that the percentage of new graduates enrolling in graduate schools hit 35 percent -- up from 28 percent during the boom year of 1985.

"Really, having a bachelor's degree doesn't make a difference" to employers, she said. "You need a lot of experience or a higher degree."

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