As minority graduates hit the job market in the midst of an economic recession, many of the class of 2009 may find themselves at an even greater disadvantage if they have not developed the contacts needed to get them in the door for an interview.
The jobless rate among Blacks with a college degree is 7.2 percent — twice that of Whites and higher than Asians and Hispanics, the Economic Policy Institute reported last month using Department of Labor statistics. The nation’s employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer new graduates in 2009 than they hired from the 2008 graduating class, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
With unemployment hitting record levels — the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the unemployment rate reached 8.9 percent in April — ‘who you know’ takes on greater significance for students trying to contend in this competitive job market, experts say.
Vivian Wrenn David, the director of the Career Counseling and Planning Center at Hampton University in Hampton, Va., says the institution encourages students to start planning their careers as early as their freshman year. Still, she’s concerned that White students have more access to jobs than minority students.
“Their network is wider than minority students,” she says. “Some of them do have more opportunities than minorities. I just believe that.”
Research conducted in 2004 by the Institute for Employment Studies found that although ethnic minorities are more likely than their White peers to enter higher education, they are less likely to earn a degree or a job after graduation.
Alexandra Cawthorne, a researcher at the Center for American Progress, says prior to the recession minorities had a hard time entering the job market after receiving a four-year college degree.
“There are fewer jobs now,” Cawthorne says. “We are still facing the same challenges and with fewer jobs. That’s the root of the issue. “A lot of [employers] rely heavily on knowing the right people.”
Cawthorne says minority students do not have effective connections. She says networking is the key, but some historically Black colleges and universities, for instance, do not offer networking opportunities for students.
She suggests graduating seniors apply for internships and fellowships as an alternative to seeking full-time employment. If the internship is unpaid, pick up a part-time job at a bookstore or on a college campus to earn income.
Despite the bleak employment outlook, at least one graduating senior is optimistic that the economy will turn around.
Sheran Deng, 24, a Chinese student studying at the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington, D.C., graduates with a master’s degree in accounting this year.
His one-year contract with the World Bank terminates in July, and he does not have a position lined up.
“It all depends on how far you can stretch yourself,” Deng says. “I don’t think it’s necessarily that bad.”
Deng says graduating minorities should reach out to their professors, as they are the first source of information when it comes to searching for jobs.
“If you can find a job in a tough time, that means you are really good,” he says. “I think this is a test. Have faith. Keep digging. I am not going to panic.”
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