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How the job market has changed in 10 years

In 2009 the economy lost 5 million jobs. The unemployment rate hit 10%. Employers were laying off workers in droves, not hiring.

Today’s college graduates will enter a very different job market. The economy has added more than 2 million jobs each of the last eight years, with almost 2.7 million in 2018. The unemployment rate is now 3.6 percent — the lowest in almost 50 years. There are about 7.5 million job openings, over a million more openings than unemployed job seekers.

New graduates will face plenty of challenges, of course. The two-thirds who borrowed for college each has about $28,500 in student loan debt, on average, and will soon have to start repaying it. At the same time, many will struggle to find affordable housing, as the rise in rents outpaces growth in wages. 

But on balance, today’s graduates have a great deal going for them. Here are some distinct advantages the Class of 2019 has over the Class of 2009. 

1. A wider range of opportunities

Recent job growth has been broad. There are not only many openings at the moment, but many different kinds. Most sectors of the economy have added more than 100,000 jobs each over the past 12 months. 

Industry Change in employment,
April 2018-April 2019

Professional and business services535,000

Health care and social assistance523,900

Leisure and hospitality455,000

Construction256,000

Transportation and warehousing176,200

Durable goods manufacturing152,000

Government126,000

Wholesale trade110,000

Financial activities110,000

Other services100,000

Educational services63,600

Nondurable goods manufacturing52,000

Mining35,200

Logging-5,300

Utilities-5,500

Information-15,000

Retail trade-49,100

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics, released May 2019

2. Fewer skills requirements

During recessions, when there are many unemployed college graduates to choose from, employers tend to become pickier, demanding degrees and experience for jobs that don’t necessarily require them. In a tight labor market, employers are being forced to do the opposite — broaden recruitment efforts and provide more on-the-job training. 

3. More ways to earn money

For graduates who haven’t found jobs yet and won’t see a paycheck for a few months, there are more ways than ever to earn some money, gain some work experience, network and build an online reputation. You can freelance on Upwork, TaskRabbit, Fiverr, YourMechanic or many other gig economy platforms, and build a portfolio of projects to show a prospective long-term employer in the process.  

4. More ways to gain skills

If job seekers want to make themselves more employable and compete for higher-paying jobs, they can find thousands of certification courses, many of which can be completed fairly cheaply online at one’s own pace. In recent years, the number of occupational certification programs and state licensing requirements has expanded dramatically. In some instances, these have raised the barriers to entering certain fields. But in others, they have made it easier to find information about quality training and to gain credentials that are valuable signals to employers.