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OPINION: An economy of uncertainty awaits the class of 2021

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Creative Commons | The Daily Wildcat

An in-person graduation signals the light at the end of the very long pandemic tunnel for students at the University of Arizona.

"Old Main-University of Arizona" by L Geoffroy/Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

When University of Arizona students came together in an online commencement ceremony in May of 2020, less than three months after the widespread effects of the COVID-19 pandemic first gripped the U.S., the job market awaiting those who were headed into the workforce was the worst it had been since the Great Recession. In April of 2020, the unemployment rate touched 14.7% — the highest number since the Great Depression (not recession like 2008, depression like 1930s). This reminder of an altogether grimmer past where light was not yet visible at the end of this viral tunnel isn’t to dredge up hopelessness but rather as a contrast to the job market spring 2021 graduates will be heading into.

Between projected post-pandemic economic growth and other labor market trends arising from a year of such enormous change and uncertainty, the job market is likely going to look a lot better for graduates now than it did for their peers a year ago. That being said, it’s also going to be weird. To start with, according to Prudential Financials’ Pulse of the American Worker survey, more than a quarter of all workers in the U.S. are considering leaving their current jobs after the pandemic. Whether this will bear out remains to be seen, but even if only half of those currently planning to change jobs do so, a lot of positions will be left vacant across hundreds of industries. This could serve some graduates well, especially those interested in the medical field where nearly a third of people are considering leaving the field.

Another force driving optimism for the labor market is the willingness the Biden Administration and other fiscal policy leaders have shown to spend money in the interest of promoting economic health. President Joe Biden’s recently released budget includes enormous increases in spending on both education and environmental protection that would create thousands of jobs. The same is true of the infrastructure package Biden has put forth, one that addresses traditional infrastructure and care infrastructure. While these investments are unlikely to pass in full, the new administration has made it clear that investments will be targeted at sectors ripe for job creation.

With the positives covered, now we can get into what will make the job market a little abnormal. 

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First of all, many workers can say goodbye to working in an office. The rapid shift to remote work in many industries a year ago answered any remaining questions as to whether large scale working from home was feasible. In most cases, the answer was yes. As such, those new to the labor market and those currently working from home should expect to face more questions about their ability to work remotely. This also means that thousands of jobs that were once available only to those in proximity to the employer will open up to a larger group of candidates. 

Worth noting for those headed into the labor market for the first time is that the option for remote work will open up a lot more jobs in fields where it's sustainable long term, but it will also increase the pool of prospective applicants. Job searches are about to get a lot more competitive.

I’m still three years away from my own commencement, so things will possibly be a little more stable by the time I am seeking more long-term employment. While I do not share their predicament, I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the uncertainty that lies ahead for 2021 UA graduates even as the world as a whole emerges from an era of incredible struggle.

Godspeed class of 2021, may your education and your experiences at the UA serve you well.


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Aidan Rhodes (he/him) is a journalism major from Flagstaff, Arizona. He is a passionate chef, athlete and writer. 


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UA COVID-19 Test Tracker

Daily (9/21)
993 29 2.9%
Total (8/2)
23,557 463 2.0%
Includes tests since August 2, 2021
Data from https://covid19.arizona.edu/updates
Updated September 21, 2021