Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Great Lockdown: MSU seniors graduate into looming recession

April 23, 2020
A graduation cap and gown photographed on April 22, 2020.
A graduation cap and gown photographed on April 22, 2020. —
Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

The Great Depression. The Great Recession. And now, the Great Lockdown.

That's the term being used to describe the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which an article from the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, describes as the worst financial crisis since the early 1930s.

Amid this impending recession, Michigan State's class of 2020 is graduating, and seniors are concerned about finding post-graduation opportunities.

Economic falloff

According to a memo from the National Bureau of Economic Research, a recession is spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months and is normally visible in real gross domestic product, real income, employment, industrial production and wholesale-retail.

A recession begins just after the economy reaches a peak of activity and ends as the economy reaches a trough, according to the organization. The in-between period on the wave shows how the economy is doing, whether it is declining — a recession — or inclining — an expansion.

"March 2020 was the beginning of a stupefyingly fast drop in the economy," MSU Professor of Economics Charles Ballard said. "In the last month, we have given back all of the jobs gained in the past 10 years."

Ballard said one estimate is that national output has dropped — in just a few weeks — by a percentage similar to what it dropped during the Great Depression over a period of three and a half years.

Ballard called the event unprecedented in American economic history, in the sense that the speed of the falloff of economic activity is significantly higher than anything else we've ever seen.

The Great Lockdown marks the 15th economic crisis in the last century, inflicting high and rising human costs worldwide.

The IMF's "World Economic Outlook," released April 14, predicts the global economy will decrease 3% in 2020, much worse than during the Great Recession in 2007-09 and a stark 6.3% downgrade from the organization's January prediction.

In a baseline scenario that assumes the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020 and actions taken to prevent more financial strain are successful, the IMF projected that we are looking at a potential rebound with a 5.8% growth in 2021.

Despite that, the IMF also stated the risks for more severe outcomes are substantial. They suggest policymakers will need to implement targeted fiscal, monetary and financial market measures to support affected households and businesses.

Ballard said the number of job losses in the last month is two and a half times as large as the job losses during the entire Great Recession.

"The best that we can hope for is that we ... flatten the curve," Ballard said. "Although, I think we need to go beyond ... we need to have the curve going down substantially before we can, in good conscience, do a whole lot to open up the economy."

However, Ballard said even when we move past the pandemic, nothing will look the same as it did before.

"I wish I could sugar coat it," Ballard said. "But this is not going to be a great job market."

Unpredictable opportunities

As a first-generation college student, Collin Sudderth, 22, will graduate this spring with a bachelor's degree in kinesiology.

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However, after his four years of hard work, it is his mother who is more disappointed about her son not getting the experience of walking across the stage and receiving his diploma in hand.

"Graduating college is definitely an accomplishment," Sudderth said in a text message. "But it doesn’t come with a good job or a guarantee for anything. I feel like there’s a lot of work to still do."

Following MSU's decision to move all classes online, President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. announced spring commencement ceremonies would be postponed indefinitely. On April 21, the university announced it would hold a virtual commencement ceremony on May 16 to celebrate graduating seniors' accomplishments.

Despite the cancellation of his last two months as a Spartan, Sudderth has stayed in East Lansing to continue working at his internship with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Sudderth's original plans were to head back to his parent's home in Boyne City for the summer and work at a country club he's held a position at in the past. However, Sudderth said the country club closed for the season in response to the pandemic.

"I applied to a master's program in Arizona, but I've also been considering taking a gap year or maybe (attending) law school," he said.

Sudderth said he's concerned about graduating seniors having the money to support themselves, especially students who don't come from wealthy families.

"I got my stimulus check. After paying rent, half my credit card bill, groceries and utility bills, it's already gone," he said. "All thoughts of staying home this summer to save money and work extra are pretty much gone."

Sudderth said he applied for another stimulus package through MSU and is waiting to hear back. He said he wonders if it's even worth it to continue school given the current job climate.

Josh Cassady, 23, will graduate with bachelor's degrees in theatre and economics.

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Cassady has two paths he can take after double majoring, though his first choice is in stage management. Because theatre is all person-to-person contact work, and there is a huge uncertainty on when the social distancing boundary can be broken, Cassady said he's taking everything one day at a time, choosing to focus on the "right now" rather than the "down the road."

"I'll get there when I get there," Cassady said.

For the time being, he said, he has sorted his decisions into tiers.

"Tier one ... this is me pursuing my goals and dreams of what I want to do ... if no pandemic was going on right now and I could just do anything," he said. "That would be pursuing stage management, moving to a new city, applying for more jobs."

Cassady said, realistically speaking, theatre won't be happening for a while. Because of this, Cassady said he will pursue a job in economics, ideally a remote desk job.

"Knowing what is going on, being aware of it and knowing what I'm getting into is helpful for me," Cassady said. "Just knowing that everybody is in this position basically and it's not me versus the world on this — we're all kind of going through it in terms of job uncertainty."

A time of transition

Matt Kremke, now manager for compensation classification at Penn State, graduated from MSU with his bachelor's degree in marketing and international business in 2008 and with a master's degree in human resources and labor relations in 2010.

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In fact, graduating during the Great Recession was part of the reason Kremke decided to pursue a master's degree, he said. During that time, the job market was also uncertain.

"I think one of the big ways that I've noticed it being an impact is that I had to pay for most of my education on my own," Kremke said. "My parents certainly helped some, but I graduated — like many people my age — with an absolute mountain of student loan debt ... and it's something that I'm still paying off today."

However, even after receiving his master's degree, he said it was still a challenge to get that first professional job, as it is for everybody, no matter the circumstances.

"(The first) six months after I graduated with my master's, it was a bunch of lower-level jobs, a bunch of temp agency things," Kremke said.

One of the biggest things Kremke said he would recommend to the class of 2020 is to just keep going.

"You might need to apply for a lot of different jobs, you might need to look for a lot of different housing opportunities before you're going to find what really works,” he said. 

Erin Fish, now a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, also graduated during the Great Recession. She graduated from MSU with a bachelor's degree in international relations in 2007.

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Fish said she initially planned on attending law school, but because she graduated at the beginning of the recession, it was a lot harder to find an internship.

"I wasn't making a lot of money, but I had what I needed and my friends were in the same boat, so it felt normal to us," Fish said. "It's a transitional time anyway when you're coming out of college, not really knowing necessarily what you want to do."

Fish said she recommends graduating seniors stay connected with others.

"Make sure you have as much support as you can," she said. "Trying not to isolate, trying to reach out to others — not only folks who are going through the same thing, but other people who are in positions that could potentially help you."

During this time, MSU's Career Services Network, or CSN, is working to help seniors make that post-graduation transition.

CSN is made up by a collection of career service professionals in career centers across campus. It helps MSU students with resume and cover letter reviews, career advising, interview preparation and more. The network also hosts programs, including career fairs and networking events.

CSN Executive Director Jeff Beavers said there are two different groups that make up the class of 2020: There are those who secured employment offers early, whether that was in the fall semester or January, and then there are those who were planning to finish their job search this spring.

CSN has created a virtual center that includes online services, which they increased by 400% to help provide resources and support to students. Beavers said the network still has a large number of employment opportunities posted on its job board, though in most cases they're with smaller companies.

"We're making students aware that there are still roles available,” Beavers said. “And that although it may not be their initial employer of choice, potentially we can get them into a role that is ... adjacent to that.”

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