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

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment has soared in 2020 and early 2021. As of December 2020, almost 10.7 million Americans were jobless, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even more have been furloughed or seen their hours cut.

But the health crisis isn’t just hurting those already in the workforce. According to new data, recent college grads are suffering, too. A June poll from the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that about 8 percent of companies were planning to or had already revoked job offers to class of 2020 graduates.

Fortunately, not all hope is lost. 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 2020 graduates on the hunt for one, this guide can help.

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. Since the start of the outbreak, the sector has lost 3.9 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Retail has also taken a beating, and while the employment in retail trade has risen in recent months, it’s still 411,000 below what it was in February. The transportation industry has also seen steep losses, largely due to waning travel and tourism.

It’s not all bad news, though. Many industries have actually expanded in recent months, and focusing your job search in these sectors may help make the job search easier.

The health and family care sectors are just a few of such thriving industries. Health care employment and social assistance jobs increased by 39,000 in December, while child care, family services and private education saw notable upticks as well. Here’s a quick look at some of the best- and worst-performing industries during the most recent months of the pandemic.

Industries going strong in recent months:

  • Retail trade.
  • Professional and technical services.
  • Construction.
  • Manufacturing.
  • Transportation and warehousing.

Industries hit hard in recent months:

  • Educational services.
  • Arts, entertainment and recreation.
  • Accommodation and food services.
  • Government.

Shifting your focus to some of these stronger markets might lead to more opportunities. You should also consider looking outside 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 Remote.co 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. The below tips can help.

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 the pandemic eases. 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.

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, like Costco or Aldi — for 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 on constantly. Heating costs can get expensive, especially in the colder months. 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 Sept. 30, 2021. 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 the 2020 class of college graduates — especially those with student loans. If you’re one of the many 2020 grads who’s struggling financially, be ready to get creative. Negotiate with your landlord and utility providers, slash that shopping budget and talk to your student loan lender as soon as possible. You have more options than you think.

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