Middle Tennessee State University’s most recent graduates are entering the nation’s toughest job market in decades but that doesn't dampen their enthusiasm.
The university contributed 2,535 degrees in two ceremonies Saturday, adding to the nearly 200,000 degrees that will be awarded nationwide this spring. And graduates, like music business major Shylo Elliot, have grand plans and hopes for the future.
Elliot said if things don't work out in the music industry, then “I'm going to forge my own way.”
But his own way may be some tough going if economic experts are to be believed.
“Though the labor market is slowly improving, the Great Recession that began in December 2007 was so long and severe that the crater it left in the labor market continues to be devastating for workers of all ages.” wrote Heidi Shierholz, Natalie Sabadish and Hilary Wething in a report for the Economic Policy Institute. “The weak labor market has been, and continues to be, particularly tough on young workers: At 16.4 percent, the March unemployment rate for workers under age 25 was twice as high as the national average.”
Recent reports also show college grads, as a subset of young workers, face an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent, which is down from 10.4 percent in 2010, and an underemployment rate of 19.1 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute's report.
Those same young workers are also facing declining wages.
Between 2000 and 2011, the wages of recent college graduates have fallen 5.1 percent.
Falling wages and a tough job market can have lasting effects on young workers because they reduce lifetime earnings and increase the average number of periods of unemployment over a career.
“For the next 10 to 15 years, the class of 2012 will likely earn less than they would have if they had graduated when job opportunities were plentiful,” according to the Policy Institute report.
Despite these dire statistics, MTSU graduates say they remain optimistic about their futures and have made interim plans, hoping the economy will improve further.
With a different approach to the job market and experience in the real world, Meghan Sheehan finished her masters in elementary education on Saturday.
With a bachelor’s degree in marketing, Sheehan said she decided the classroom was the best place to build her future.
She left marketing after a few years, and started a family, because she found a passion for teaching the next generation.
“Teaching is a little different kind of field, so I would say that probably I guess it’s dependent on teachers retiring and growth in the school system,” Sheehan said about her job prospects.
Broadcasting major Shannon Elion, on the other hand, said she is a little nervous about her future prospects but has a plan to make herself more marketable.
“I don’t have anything lined up, but I’m optimistic,” she said, adding she’s hoping to line up a post-graduate internship with one of the local news stations in Nashville to bulk up her skill set.
Even with plans and hope for the future, these and college graduates across the county face a very difficult labor market.
“Continued improvement in the labor market is expected to be slow, with the overall unemployment rate likely not falling below 7 percent for another two years,” according to the report.
MTSU graduate Jairus Burks said he plans to ride out the next two years at the Art Institute of Atlanta and get a masters degree.
“I’m not really nervous,” said Burks, who majored in mass communication, emphasizing video and film production. He intends to use his skills as a cinematographer and film editor.
“I like doing digital graphics as well. I might direct my own movie, but I really like working behind the scenes,” he said after graduating.
Because the unemployment rate for recent graduates mirrors that of the national unemployment rate, experts expect improvement to be slow “with the classes of 2013 and 2014 also facing the negative consequences of entering the labor market during a period of very high unemployment,” according to the report.