“It’s a bizarre time to be job searching": College graduates looking for first jobs face catastrophic economic conditions

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Sidney Smith, 25, was the first in her family to get her undergraduate degree and just completed law school at Baylor University. Although she'd hoped to get a job in city government, most cities are not hiring right now. Sergio Flores for The Texas Tribune

For four years, Aman Dontula successfully navigated the grueling world of software engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. He maintained high grades in rigorous computer science courses and participated in hackathons, all while ceaselessly competing for prestigious internships.

It seemed as though his hard work had paid off. In October, Dontula was offered a job as an entry-level software engineer with Uber, a position that he was told would be waiting for him after he graduated this month. Satisfied with his post-graduation plans, Dontula was prepared to relax for the rest of his final semester in college.

Cue the pandemic.

Uber, hammered by mandatory stay-at-home orders intended to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, rescinded Dontula’s job offer, along with hundreds of other positions. Back to square one, Dontula allowed himself “two days of stress” and then threw himself into job hunting. But the job market Dontula and other 2020 college graduates are preparing to enter is projected to be one of the worst in history, according to economists.

“I feel like I did everything right. I was on a solid path, and in literally any other situation than a pandemic, I would be safe,” Dontula said. “So this has been an awakening to the real world.”

While economists say it is difficult to paint a holistic portrait of job availability and market vitality, snapshots of the economy have revealed a grim post-pandemic reality for first-time workers eager to get their start in the workforce.

Falling wages, hiring freezes, furloughs and rescinded job offers are quickly becoming commonplace. And newly minted graduates will have to compete with experienced candidates, recently displaced, for the available jobs that remain. Experts say those who do get jobs in the recession may accept lower wages and salaries than they’d have otherwise settled for.