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With hiring freezes and new competition, job searching for college graduates continue to become complicated during the coronavirus pandemic.
Christi Casey, 23, was roughly nine months into her new job in Los Angeles when she got furloughed.
She worked as an event manager for Marriott International, a position that relies on gatherings of more than 10 people. It was a job that she had her sights set on for a while, yet it was one that stood no chance against the coronavirus outbreak.
After less than a year living as a young adult in Southern California, Casey trekked back across the country, where she – like so many other recent grads – is back in the house she grew up in.
Layoffs and furloughs have overwhelmed U.S. unemployment offices for several weeks now, uprooting the lives of millions as companies scale back costs or close down completely. Of the 33 million Americans who have filed for unemployment benefits in the past seven weeks, many are recent college graduates.
For the class of 2019, this is the first full year of post-grad life — a time to launch a career path, move to a new city or even meet a future spouse. After spending the better part of two decades preparing to be working adults in the “real world,” 2020 was supposed to be the big introduction to it.
But for many, what started as a year of optimism and excitement was quickly derailed.
“I was definitely shocked when I found out I was furloughed completely,” said Casey, who graduated from the University of Maryland in May 2019.
In early March, she said she had been mentally preparing for a reduction in hours once the virus began to spread more rapidly, but a complete suspension of work and pay caught her off guard.
And what started as shock has since turned into feelings of failure.
“It’s kind of a defeating feeling of going from being independent, going across the country, having a full-time job that I worked really hard to get, and now being back in my childhood home,” said Casey, a resident of Ellicott City, Maryland.
More family time, but with an added layer of stress
Kingsley Bowen, a 2019 graduate of Tufts University, had plans to move out of his parents’ house before the pandemic hit. Instead, he was laid off from his job as an associate software engineer with a blockchain tech startup in Cleveland, Ohio.
“To be 23 without a job, living in your parents’ house… that’s kind of the image of failure in a lot of media,” Bowen said. “You know, to be an adult who can’t survive independently.”
Bowen, Casey and countless other young adults are getting extra family time that otherwise might not have happened, but for many it comes with an underlying sense of worry about what’s next.
“Being a young adult who returns home can be challenging in the best of times … Young adults might feel a loss of freedom and independence, or disagree about current familial roles,” clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca Harmon told USA TODAY.
A young adult’s return home often reignites old dynamics between parent and child, which can bring back distant feelings of distress that a young adult hasn’t experienced in a while, Harmon said.
“The more awareness people can have of those old dynamics, the better,” she explained. “That being said – do not use this time to try to address or solve deep and longstanding family issues – now is not the time and given the baseline levels of stress everyone is experiencing, it is more likely that it won’t be effective right now.”
Instead, it’s best to identify and avoid the patterns and behaviors that get families into trouble, she said.
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‘The rug got pulled out from under me’
Recent grads could also be vulnerable to the anxiety that stems from a sudden job loss. With career paths, relationships and future living situations often lingering in the minds of young adults, not knowing where their next paycheck is coming from can seem like an unraveling of bigger life plans, Harmon said.
And as layoffs affect Americans of all ages, recent graduates are competing against people with years – sometimes decades – more work experience than them.
Anthony Sciuto, an August graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara, took time to travel before getting on the job hunt in December, and said things were just starting to look up for him by the time the pandemic hit.
“I was feeling confident about some potential jobs, and then all of a sudden, the rug got pulled out from under me,” said Sciuto, a resident of Santa Monica, California. “I’m worried about more qualified people with more experience being put back into employment and being on the job market and kind of saturating it.”
Meanwhile, hiring freezes continue to complicate the job search. Opportunities have only gotten harder to find, he said.
‘Normalize’ your reactions
If there’s a sign of emotional relief for young adults, it can be found in the fallout from past periods of economic distress. A study suggests that those who graduate college in a recession are more likely to be satisfied with their careers later in life.
“There’s more gratitude for having a job,” explained Dr. Lata McGinn, a professor of psychology at Yeshiva University. “The perception of choice creates a lot of stress. So, if you get a job and you just think ‘oh, I could’ve gotten an even better job,’ no matter how successful you are, that makes you feel dissatisfied.”
In the meantime, it’s important to remember that many layoffs, furloughs and unsuccessful job searches aren’t necessarily the fault of an individual, but a global pandemic. Keeping this in mind, McGinn says, is essential for coping with career worries.
“In the face of all this uncertainty and danger, the first thing to do is to sort of normalize whatever reaction you’re having,” McGinn said. “A lot of suffering comes from questioning your own emotions… It wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t worried about my job prospects.”
For Casey, she’s holding out hope that she’ll be able to return to her position with Marriott, but acknowledged she might have to look for opportunities elsewhere if things don’t improve.
“Even when business levels come back to a somewhat normal level, I don’t know that there’s going to be enough revenue coming in to justify bringing back someone like me, who’s only been with the company for a year,” she said.
She said the furlough will prevent her from returning to work until at least May 23, but she expects to be waiting longer than that.
Follow Jay Cannon of USA TODAY on Twitter: @JayTCannon.
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