RICHARDS: Will seniors graduate into poverty this May?

Amy Richards

For those with friends or siblings who have graduated from college, the fact that some of them are still without a job, referring to their parents as roommates and eating bags of popcorn for dinner, might seem funny. We laugh because they were ambitious students who graduated with honors but have ended up back home, unable to afford going out when you’re on break because they have no money, really. It’s funny to us now, while we are buffered on all sides by Ithan, Spring Mill and Lancaster, entrenched in our prosperous Villanova life, where meals are “free” and we are generally supported so that we may pursue the gift of higher learning. But graduation is rapidly approaching, and while we entered college with high hopes for academic and professional success as a young adult, many of us might soon be hoping only to be able to support ourselves.

Millions of college graduates are out of work throughout the United States, and many who are working are simply not making the cut. In fact, young people currently make up the highest percentage of unemployed people (by age group), making college students most sensitive to the whims of the economy. CNN reports tell the sobering tale of the college graduate without work: four in five graduating seniors last year did not receive any of the jobs for which they applied.

Instead, these students “graduate into poverty.” For most Villanovans, poverty seems too far off to ever threaten us as a potential reality. However, a percentage of students here will graduate with thousands of dollars of debt. With no jobs to fund living expenses, students can barely hope to finance their debts. The hope of saving money quickly deflates into a pipe dream.

For Villanovans who do not have financial support at home or who have already been financially independent since high school, securing a job after graduation is no longer about being accomplished, but is, instead, a matter of sustenance. Nor can these students afford to take any job that is offered – they hope to secure a job that pays a salary that covers both living expenses and the running tab of bills from school. Work as interns, research assistants, part-time workers in non-governmental organizations or in much of the service sector, for example, often does not provide a living wage to recent graduates.

For college students who have had no experience with the reality of poverty, the loss of benefits that were enjoyed through their young lives can be devastating.

Meanwhile, students who are unemployed and without any financial support at home may quickly find themselves applying for government aid. Yes, even college graduates can fall below the poverty line. In fact, as last week’s Faces of Homelessness Panel suggested, we might be academically invincible, but we still have to pay bills, and we are not exempt from the realities of being evicted when we can’t afford to pay.

Aside from the immediate effects of unemployment on recent graduates, studies suggest that the long-term effects of unemployment on young people include the inability to gain a foothold in the labor force later in life. Due to lack of experience and the gap of time between graduation and obtaining a job, graduates who are without work upon graduation might expect to be unemployed more often than those who were employed from the start. There is also evidence that these unemployed graduates will never regain their loss in wages and will have lower earning and decreased ability to “move up” in the workplace in the trajectory of their professional lives.

Perhaps this is the more immediate concern for students – the concern regarding future professional achievement. But for those students who will be cut off from financial support, will be underpaid as interns or without a job at all, poverty will be lurking around the corner.

While popcorn for dinner and crashing on a friend’s couch might seem funny to us in college, our unemployed, “broke” friends may be balancing on a tightrope to keep from falling into homelessness.

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Amy Richards is a senior honors, Spanish and global interdisciplinary studies major from Kings Park, N.Y. She can be reached at [email protected]