UC Davis graduates face brutal job market

Saturday’s commencement ceremony at the University of California, Davis was supposed to be a celebration of academic achievement and the beginning of a bright future. But for many graduates, it marked the start of a harsh reality – unemployment.

Nearly five years after the end of the Great Recession, recent college graduates are still fighting to land meaningful employment. Many have found themselves working at low-pay jobs in retail and hospitality with no end in sight.

Inside the ARC Pavilion, university top brass extolled the virtues of obtaining a degree and applauded the sea of young faces. The new graduates, however, had the brutal job market in the back of their minds.

“I’m just going to apply to everything. Anything I could plausibly do,” said Matthew Slaughter, 22, who was waiting in a ballroom before the ceremony with his fellow graduates.

Slaughter majored in history and minored in statistics. But even those studying math and sciences – traditional bright spots in hiring – are not landing their dream jobs.

Keith Wong, a mathematics major, hopes to one day work in data analysis. For now, he plans to move back with his parents in Los Angeles while he continues to hunt for a job.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” the 21-year-old said.

The economic recovery has largely left behind the nation’s youths, with unemployment rates for millennials staying unusually high.

In November, the U.S. unemployment rate for 18-29 year olds was 15.9 percent, according to Generation Opportunity, a nonpartisan youth advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. The figure is more than double the overall unemployment rate and includes an estimated 1.84 million young people who have given up looking for work altogether.

No one is more anxious to see those numbers fall than the parents of soon-to-be or recent university graduates.

Greg Finkelstein, 22, graduated Saturday from UC Davis with a degree in animal science. His love for animals, however, has not translated into a job, said his father, Jay Finkelstein of Hillsborough.

“The real world hits you very quickly,” said Jay Finkelstein, who teaches a job-training course at an adult school. “While you look for a job, you need to pay for insurance, fuel and food. I’m prepared to fund him, but it’s not open-ended.”

Of 13 graduating UC Davis students interviewed by The Sacramento Bee, only two had a job lined up immediately upon graduation. Both majored in computer science, the bread and butter of Silicon Valley tech titans that are leading the state in hiring.

Tran Tu, one of the two students to score a job, chuckled as he disclosed his salary. The 23-year-old will be paid $86,000 annually as a software engineer for Cisco Systems in San Jose.

“I signed the paperwork last month,” said Tu, who is originally from Vietnam but immigrated to Sacramento in 2004.

Like others who are finding jobs, Tu completed three internships – his were with Intel at Folsom – before securing permanent employment. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that 67 percent of paid interns at for-profit organizations were offered full-time jobs in 2013.

Not surprisingly, computer science majors are the most sought-after group by employers, according to the association.

Still, Saturday’s 1,049 newly minted graduates have the cards stacked against them, regardless of major.

“Recent graduates are simply not as attractive to employers. They have less experience,” said Kenneth Tsang, research associate at NACE. “They may be able to graduate summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA, but when you put them in an office, they lack critical skills like logical reasoning.”

UC Davis’ Internship and Career Center recently began keeping track of graduates’ post-college placement through a voluntary survey. But the data haven’t yet been analyzed, said Jeanne Shelby, the center’s associate director.

Those who plan to graduate in the spring are watching the developments carefully from the sidelines, and in many cases, have already started the hunt for that elusive job.

Johana Perdomo, a senior sociology major, called the situation “disappointing,” noting that her friends who have already graduated have come up empty in their job searches.

“It’s sad that a bachelor’s degree is useless these days,” Perdomo said. “We put so much time and money into it, yet we’re forced to take up jobs in restaurants and retail.”

The lingering effects of the economic crisis have forced millennials to take shelter in graduate and doctoral programs, according to the Pew Research Center. They have also had to postpone life’s biggest events, such as marriage, having children or purchasing a home.

Several students interviewed noted that they have looked into master’s programs as a way to hide out from the economy.

“The whole point of school is to get a better job,” said Mayra Andalon, a senior psychology major who is considering a master’s degree.

Before marching into the ceremony, Erika Geer described her mixed feelings about Saturday’s milestone.

“I’m excited to graduate, but at the same time, it’s grim,” said Geer, an International Relations major.

Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi offered this advice to graduates: “I wish you good luck with your futures.”