COVID-19 Causing College Graduates to Face Unemployment

Natasha Petrenko
5 min readDec 1, 2020


By Natasha Petrenko

Taylor Holin, a recent graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been unemployed on and off throughout the past few months due to the pandemic.

Holin studied environmental sustainability and had two different part-time student jobs during her time at UIUC. Since she graduated in May, she could no longer work her student jobs anymore. She could not find a job for her degree so she started looking at other options because she had bills to pay.

“When I was looking at other options, I saw that it was more service-related than anything else,” Holin said.

Holin is not alone. Findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics report released November of this year showed that the leisure and hospitality industries have added 4.8 million jobs over the past six months. The food and drink industry brought in the most jobs. However, employment was still 2.1 million lower than in February.

“I had two student jobs that I had since junior year,” Holin said. “When the pandemic hit, for both my school jobs I was able to report the same amount of hours and get paid the same amount. Once I graduated that’s when my student jobs ended and my unemployment began and applied for benefits.”

A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that as of September, there are 9.1% of recent graduates (age 22–27) in the United States, who are facing unemployment, hoping they can get their post-college careers sometime soon. That is more than twice the rate compared to last September.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the overall unemployment rate in the US started at 3.6% in January. In April, during the midst of the shutdown, it rose all the way to 14.7% and was back to single digits in August at 8.4%. The latest unemployment data is from October and was reported to be at 6.9%.

The Statista report shows that for recent college graduates, rates were at 3.8% in January of this year. As the pandemic hit the unemployment rate for recent college graduates went as high as 13.2% in June.

Jaime Velazquez, Associate Director for Employer Relations at The University of Illinois Career Services, said that the job outlook for recent college graduates was looking pretty good before COVID froze employers from hiring in large numbers.

“Everything fell flat, employers froze everything,” Velazquez said. “No one knew what was going to happen so everything went to zero.”

Unemployment numbers in ages 18–24

Unemployment in college-aged adults/Created on Datawrapper by Natasha Petrenko

A 2020 study by the Hope Center Organization surveyed more than 38,600 students in 26 states and found that 28% of four-year college graduates have reduced hours/pay and 42% have lost their jobs.

Among them was Holin, who, after a few months of being unemployed, eventually a job.

“For the time being, I was a server at Egg Harbor Cafe,” she said. “Ideally I wanted something that would work with my degree but those companies aren’t really hiring or it’s very slim picking so it was so much easier just getting into the service industry.”

Velazquez said employers aren’t hiring like they used to and some are still resistant because they are unable to have the training and physical aspect of the work environment that new hires would typically get to experience and get comfortable with.

“What happened was that many were able to transition to remote with existing employees,” Velazquez said. “Instead of recruiting in large numbers, they were recruiting for less numbers, and instead of going to 10, 12 universities, they only narrowed it down to two or three here they were going to recruit from during this pandemic.”

Holin began working as a server in DuPage County in August. However, DuPage County shut down indoor seating inside restaurants in October as COVID-19 rates spiked. She had to go back into her unemployment benefits and certify all the weeks she had been working in order to receive her benefits again.

“I definitely made a lot more on unemployment with the extra $600, it was weird I didn’t have to worry about bills,” she said. “Now that it ended, I usually would make the same amount in a day serving as I do in a week with unemployment benefits. So I make nothing and it’s like what am I going to do?”

According to the Pew Research Center, the government started spending hundreds of billions of dollars on coronavirus relief. The Pew Research Center also reported that the fiscal-year deficit will be about $3.7 trillion, which hasn’t happened since 1945.

It was Holin’s dream to pursue further education to study Environmental Law. However, she decided to take a gap year (or two) as things are not the same with a pandemic around. She already must pay $800 a month to pay off her student loans from undergraduate education.

“It made no sense to pay full tuition for grad school during a pandemic, especially because I am not an online learner,” Holin said.

Student loan debt has been an issue for college graduates well after they have graduated, now with the job market being impacted, recent graduates are experiencing hardships and having to put somethings on hold for the time being.

Average Student Loans Debt By State:

Average Student Loan Deby by State/Created on Datawrapper by Natasha Petrenko

Future Graduate

John Reese, a senior at Harris Stowe University in St.Louis Missouri, is reconsidering his current major in business management.

Throughout the pandemic, Reese has worked in a grocery store and when he came back home to Illinois he started working at Fresh Meadows Golf Club full time in order to pay his bills.

With the pandemic eliminating entry-level opportunities for recent graduates, Reese has been thinking about staying in school for a few more years and getting a degree in Computer Science instead, for two reasons. He does not want to be stuck working minimum wage after he has received his degree, and two, to expand his options since COVID has caused employers to freeze on hiring in large numbers.

“I’m fine now but when it’s time for me to graduate, I am going to be worried when it comes time to apply for jobs within my major,” he said.

Reese is also worried about how he will pay off his student loans after he graduates if he can’t find a career job and has to continue working at his next to minimum-wage job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the opening projected for lower-paying jobs such as cashiers, janitors, and order fillers are much higher than careers that pay higher wages.

“Those that have been struggling have gone to the essential types of jobs, working in grocery stores,” Velazquez said. “I think what’s also been interesting is that yes, certain areas have taken a hit more than others but that also forced people looking for work full-time professions, to look at all the professions that are out there.”

Essential workers wages as of 2019:

Essential Worker Wages by Occupation/Created on Flourish by Natasha Petrenko

Since the job market has been fluctuating, many have been concerned about when they will be able to find a job within their degree. Velazquez shared positive news mentioning that things are starting to look bright when it comes to employers hiring new graduates again.

Throughout the summer, there has been an increase in employers hiring recent graduates again. Velazquez added that employers are projected to start their normal recruitment activity in the fall of next year.

“It’s already getting better,” Velazquez said. “We expect to get to some normal numbers by next fall in terms of recruitment.”

Recent Graduates and Overall College Graduates:

Unemployment in recent graduates and overall college graduates/Crated on Flourish by Natasha Petrenko



Natasha Petrenko

Senior at UIC/Studying Communication. Interested in Journalism, Data, Marketing, and HR.