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Recent college graduates face a tough job market: Here are your options

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Even though the unemployment rate is continuing to remain steady at less than 6 percent, that doesn’t mean the job market is doing well. As of September 2021, there are 8.4 million Americans out of work, and the number of long-term unemployed people is 2.1 million higher than in February 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Current workers aren’t the only ones facing tough job prospects. Recent college graduates are facing difficulty getting a job at about the same rate as all workers, with the most recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showing 6.4 percent of new graduates unemployed.

Though finding a job in today’s flailing market is certainly challenging, there are still employment options out there. If you’re one of the many 2021 graduates looking for work, you have more chances than you think.

Navigating the job market in 2021

Not all industries have been hit the same by the pandemic. The hospitality and leisure industry, for example, took one one of the biggest blows at the onset of the pandemic. While it’s rebounded slightly, right now leisure and hospitality is down 1.7 million, or 10 percent, from February 2020.

But many industries have expanded in recent months, and focusing your job search in these sectors may help make the job search easier.

Industries going strong in recent months:

  • Private education.
  • Social assistance.
  • Transportation and warehousing.
  • Professional and business services.
  • Manufacturing.

Shifting your focus to some of these stronger markets might lead to more opportunities. You should also consider looking outside of your geographic area. Since many companies are now operating remotely, you may be eligible for positions in other states or even other countries. Check out remote-specific job boards like FlexJobs and for potential options.

Tips for getting through financial hard times

Even if you do hone your job search and look toward more thriving sectors, there’s still a chance that employment won’t come easy. If that’s the case, you’ll need to get creative in how you manage your finances until things turn around.

Look for lower-cost housing

If mom and dad are up for it, you might consider moving in with your parents for a while — at least until you find a stable and reliable job. You’ll save big on housing costs, and you can also take advantage of the rent-free time to save aggressively. This will ensure that you’re ready to put down that security deposit (or down payment) as soon as you’ve locked in a job.

If moving home isn’t an option or your family needs financial help, too, you can:

  • Talk to your landlord or property manager. You may be able to get on a payment plan or defer your payments for a certain period of time.
  • Look for housing assistance. Many states and municipalities offer rent and housing payment assistance for residents in need.
  • Consider adding a roommate. If you can add another person or two, you can cut your housing costs drastically — not to mention your utility bills.

Depending on your household’s income level, you may also qualify for Section 8 housing. This usually requires just 30 percent of your income.

Take on a side gig or part-time job

Food delivery services like DoorDash, Uber Eats and other similar apps have exploded thanks to stay-at-home orders. The same is true for grocery delivery services like Instacart and Shipt.

Some other potential side gigs include:

  • Dog walking.
  • Housesitting.
  • Mowing lawns.
  • Babysitting or nannying.

Though these gigs don’t come with massive salaries, they can help you stay afloat during difficult times. They’re also pretty flexible schedule-wise, which is helpful if you line up an interview for a day job and need the time off.

Get serious about cutting corners

Keeping your costs low is critical if you’re not bringing in much income. You’ll want to reduce things like your grocery bill, utilities, gas and more.

Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Shop at discount stores. Costco and Aldi have both groceries and general household items. The local dollar store may also have some staples.
  • Review your utility and service providers. If it’s been a few years since you chose your power company or phone provider, chances are you’re not getting the best rate. Take time to compare your options, and don’t be afraid to call up your current providers to renegotiate.
  • Avoid having the heater and air conditioning on. Electricity costs can get expensive. Where possible, rely on space heaters or bundle up.
  • Cut the cord. You’d be surprised at how much you can save by cutting out cable or other entertainment services.
  • Commit to DIYing more. Cook at home instead of ordering takeout or cancel that gym membership and work out at home instead.

Dealing with student loan debt

If you have federal student loans, payments and interest accrual are suspended through Jan. 31, 2022. Every dollar you choose to pay to your student loans now goes toward the principal balance, but you may also decide to take what you would be paying to student loans and instead put it toward an emergency fund or other monthly expenses.

This option is not available for private student loans, but refinancing can help if you’re in a financial bind. Refinancing lets you take advantage of today’s low interest rates, ideally lowering your monthly payment in the process. You might also ask your lender about any discounts you qualify for. Some companies offer discounts if you set up autopayments, for instance, which could save you a lot both over time and on your monthly payment.

Once you find a job, there’s a chance that your employer may help you with paying off your student loan debt. Not all companies offer this, but it’s worth asking HR once you’re hired on.

The bottom line

The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly hard for recent college graduates — especially those with student loans. If you’re one of the many new grads who’s struggling financially, you’re not alone. Find ways to earn more and spend less until you get back on your feet. You have more options than you think.

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