Students, Graduates Face Limited Job Opportunities

by Amanda Lynn


San Jose City College

SAN JOSE, CA – With a sigh of relief, a San Jose City College (SJCC) student turns in her final project before winter break.

Although classes are over, the challenge has just begun for a Larissa Arreola, a 25-year-old liberal arts major. With a six week break between terms, she is one of many students who struggle to find gainful employment in between semesters.

According to a recent Gallup poll, she may be one of 15% of Americans who are underemployed. This figure includes Americans aged 18-65 who are employed part time, but want to work full time, or they are unemployed. In a recent study, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that 44 percent of working recent graduates were underemployed in 2012. The bank defined underemployed for these workers as holding a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree.

“I would like to find a good job, but I can’t find anything that pays better than retail,” said Arreola.

She is not alone. Anik Porta, 30, is a graphic design major, wife, and mother who has found temporary employment at Macy’s during the holiday season. Despite her college education and extensive retail experience, she is capped at the entry level wage. Still, she says she is “happy to have found this source of income for my family, however temporary it may be.”

Often students hope that the situation will change upon graduation. According to the Accenture 2014 College Graduates survey, 43 percent expect to earn more than $40,000 at their first job. The reality is that only 21 percent of the 2012-2013 graduates actually in the workforce are earning at that level. A quarter of them (26 percent) are actually making less than $19,000 per year.

While job prospects vary by major and college, for most graduates the first step is finding a job – any job that will pay the bills. For Heather Bush, 30, an Esthetics major, she hopes to land her first job in “maybe a month or so – depending on how long it takes to get licensed.”

For Kristen Hunt, a 23-year-old nursing student, she believes that her connections to Valley Medical Center will help her find a job. “I feel lucky that I know people on the inside. I expect to find a job within a year of graduating – fingers crossed!”

Students at San Jose City College can find some resources at the job placement center on campus. According to Carol Vasquez, the Academic Advising Specialist for SJCC, there are plans to hire a full-time job developer for the Spring 2015 semester. The college also plans to host a hospitality and restaurant job fair for the students next year. For students attending college to escape hospitality jobs, this may seems like a sign of things to come.

According to Heidi Shierholz, a labor market economist at the Economic Policy Institute, “the labor market is headed in the right direction, it is improving very slowly, and the job prospects for young high school and college graduates remain dim.”

So is college worth it? The data indicates that it is. For young high school graduates, the unemployment rate is 22.9 percent, and their underemployment rate is at 41.5 percent. For recent college graduates under 27, the unemployment rate is a mere 8.5 percent with underemployment representing 16.8 percent.

Given the high cost of college, it may be beneficial for potential students to assess why they would like to go to college. For some, the academic challenge is enough.

Jorge Campbell, 32, of Campbell, is a bright and personable alumni of San Francisco State University. He holds no illusions of going to college for the sake of a new career. Campbell began working as a barista for Peet’s Coffee and Tea at the beginning of his college career nearly ten years ago. Working his way through college, he eventually graduated with a master’s degree in sexuality studies.

“I just wanted to study something that I was interested in. It was never about the money,” said Campbell. Fortunately for him, his hard work at Peet’s Coffee and Tea paid off and he was promoted to store manager.

Campbell is an exception. As of a study in 2012, one in two new college graduates face unemployment or underemployment. According to Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, many people with a bachelor’s degree face a double whammy of rising tuition and poor job outcomes. Unfortunately, it is difficult for the policymakers to identify underemployment once the position is full time.

College isn’t the only path to find a career. For Devin Moreno, 28, of San Jose, college was a way to acquire technical skills in musicianship, when the time commitment required for school was no longer viable, Moreno quit. Balancing the demands of a part time job at Home Depot and a full time band, Moreno struggled to find the time and value of completing a degree at SJCC.

“College taught me a lot of skills that I’ll take with me. But when it came down to it, I found my current job through working in my band.” said Moreno.

In tough economic times like these, a college degree is no longer a guarantee of success. Sometimes, it’s not just what you know, but who you know.


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