By Yanet Mengistie
Posted on December 31, 2021
The period after graduating from undergraduate studies can be a reality check. While some people still believe that Bachelor’s degrees equate to being an ideal candidate who will receive job offers, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The reality is today’s university graduates are more drained than ever from job searching, and this was only made worse when COVID-19 hit. What makes matters worse is Black graduates, despite many companies proclaiming their diversity and inclusion policies in the summer of 2020, seem to be hit the hardest in the job market. So, while many publications have examined the job market for graduates overall, we’ll investigate how Black graduates have specifically been handling the downturn of the job market due to COVID-19.
Job market overall after COVID-19
To begin, the overall job market in North America post-COVID-19 has not been looking promising. In February of 2020, before the virus was deemed a global pandemic, the employment rate in Canada was 61.8 percent. A year later during the same month of 2021, it plummeted to 59.4 per cent. It continued to decline with April of 2021 seeing 51.5 percent. The beginning of the pandemic in March and April caused three million jobs to be lost across Canada, with Ontario accounting for 355,300 of those lost jobs in 2020. So COVID-19 has caused a decline in employment opportunities and a rise in selective competition. This has drastically impacted recent university graduates who are in need and ready for job experience pertaining to their field of study. Between February and March of 2020, new job listings dropped by 29 percent for Americans. By May of 2020, ZipRecruiter’s data found that the job openings, especially for entry-level positions, which university students are typically hired for, had dropped by a whopping 73 percent. Even internship openings showed similar negative statistics. This has created a highly toxic and competitive job market for recent graduates in which many will be left behind. An article by Forbes magazine brought up a timely point on the matter of competition in the job market. The article stated that due to the limited employment opportunities, there are now not only a large number of 2020 graduates looking for work, but also 2021 graduates, causing there to be too many candidates but not enough jobs. To make things worse, these two groups of graduates are also competing with experienced individuals who were let go from their companies due to COVID-19, putting the past two years of graduates at a disadvantage in this job market.
Black graduates already struggling before COVID-19
On top of facing a difficult job market this year, Black graduates have been at a disadvantage in the jobs market for some time. A Bachelor’s degree doesn’t seem satisfactory for employers. Michael Gaddis, a researcher at the University of Michigan made this discovery. Gaddis conducted a field study in which he created 1000 fake job applicants. In these applications, the resumes listed both elite American schools such as Harvard and Stanford and schools with higher acceptance rates and less prestige such as the University of Massachusetts (Amherst). These researchers made sure to distribute the elite and non-elite schools on the fake resumes of both Black and white applicants, using names that society deems as ‘Black’ and ‘white’ to signify the race such as “Lamar,” “Shanice,” “Erica” and “Charlie” to name a few. Gaddis found that white applicants with degrees from elite schools got the highest response rate while Black applicants without an elite degree got the lowest response rate at fewer than seven per cent. White applicants who didn’t have an elite degree still received a higher response rate than Black applicants without an elite degree. What was even more insightful about the study was that when employers did respond to Black applicants, it was for jobs that had lower starting salaries. Black candidates were hired for jobs with salaries $3000 less than their white counterparts. Overall, the study demonstrated that qualified Black candidates have been struggling in the job market for some time, as this study was conducted in 2015.
Black graduates after COVID-19
Despite having the higher profile degrees that make recent Black graduates qualified for these entry-level and internship positions, they still have been struggling post-graduation. COVID-19 cut the number of opportunities in half. In the United States, comparing February of 2020 to May of 2021 there was a decline in the number of Black women regaining jobs. Even as the world is beginning to reopen, Black individuals are not retaining the same opportunities, even though these opportunities were limited beforehand. Another analysis of the transitioning COVID-19 job market expands on this point, as an analysis of data by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that Black workers are facing slower recovery rates compared to white workers. Furthermore, the same analysis revealed that Black workers are also facing lower job-finding rates.
In Canada, there are similar damaging effects. Although the Canadian job market is improving overall as of June of 2021 with there being growth in Black employment, it was only in sectors such as trades, transport, equipment operation, or the sales and service industry. The majority of these sectors are not where recent graduates head toward based on employment trends. Recent graduates dominate fields such as business, government, education, and health care. So while some sectors are thriving and heading back to work, recent Black graduates are still being left behind in Canada as well.
The job market for Black Canadians is not looking good right now. Data demonstrates that qualified Black job applicants were already not being hired pre-COVID-19, but the impact of the virus has worsened their prospects. It is important for Black applicants to not internalize these feelings of rejection and to realize that they are more than enough. They should not give up on their job search and finding their possible dream job.