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Graduating college seniors face volatile job market

COVID-19 has disrupted the once-strong job market for college seniors.

MINNEAPOLIS – Jessica Case is going to graduate college from her childhood living room this weekend.

She will watch the University of Minnesota’s virtual commencement through a computer on Saturday, nestled between her parents on the couch in Illinois, hundreds of miles away from the campus where she studied political science and strategic communications.

It will feel strange.

“Not how I envisioned it,” Case said.

But the Class of 2020 has bigger problems to worry about than virtual commencement. With millions of Americans out of work since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate has climbed to 14.7 percent – the highest total since the Great Depression.

Almost instantly, Case lost three of the four jobs she worked while in school. And now, with graduation looming, she has found it nearly impossible to navigate the tumultuous job market as she looks to start her career.

“The job search has been non-existent,” Case said. “You look at LinkedIn, Handshake, Indeed, it’s the same three jobs – and they probably have a hiring freeze anyway.”

When Case searched for government jobs related to political science, for example, she watched a total of 40 positions evaporate into just one overnight as local municipalities cut jobs.

“How do you plan for that? You never think you’re going to file for unemployment as soon as you graduate college,” Case said, “but that’s what many people are going to have to do.”

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Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, who consults with some local Fortune 500 companies as CEO of the Rae Mackenzie Group, can empathize. Her daughter, 23, just graduated with a master’s degree from Northeastern University in Boston.

“You guys are troopers,” she said to graduating students. “You have graduated in the middle of a pandemic. But here’s the good news: employers are still hiring.”

Smith-Akinsanya, whose business helps companies strengthen their relationships with communities of color, also runs the People of Color Career Fair. These communities have felt a deep and disproportionate impact from the virus itself and the economic fallout.

Just look at the numbers. Smith-Akinsanya said that the state’s unemployment rate, prior to COVID-19, was two to four times higher for people of color than those of white people.

“Now, it’s even double that,” she said. “We just have to make sure that as a state, and as a nation, that we continue to make sure we can be as equitable as possible.”

Smith-Akinsanya said her inbox has exploded with inquiries from job-seekers, all looking for suggestions about how to connect with employers during the age of COVID-19.

She offered a few tips:

-- Update your LinkedIn profile so that employers can scan your resume quickly

-- Develop personal connections that might lead to job tips

-- Do research on companies and industries that are hiring

“Don’t be discouraged. I know it feels weird right now – it feels weird for me – but listen, it won’t always feel this way,” Smith-Akinsanya said. “It’s OK to feel bad – its OK. But we can’t stay stuck. Feel it and move. And take one or two solid action steps each day to get to your dream career.”

KARE 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit kare11.com/coronavirus for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about the Midwest specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and see what companies in Minnesota are hiring. Have a question? Text it to us at 763-797-7215. And get the latest coronavirus updates sent right to your inbox every morning. Subscribe to the KARE 11 Sunrise newsletter here. Help local families in need: www.kare11.com/give11

The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.