How are “we” doing?
Ayush Kumar • Contributing Columnist
As UT Tyler prepares for the hybrid model coming fall, I cannot help but wonder how we are doing. More specifically, how is this pandemic impacting us — college students? As per the Current Population Survey (CPS), the number of full-time college students in the U.S. dropped by roughly 353,885 in one month from March to April 2020. The CPS is a monthly survey conducted by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) used to calculate monthly unemployment data.
I would like to clear some terminology before we begin exploring trends.
Unemployment rate is generally defined as the percentage of the labor force which is jobless, meaning this measure does not include individuals who are not in the labor force. For example: individuals who are not actively looking for work (part time or full time). Thus, this only includes individuals who are in need of a job. This column attempts to study the impact of COVID-19 on full-time college students by analyzing employment characteristics.
The unemployment rate for full-time college students is generally greater than the national average, seen in the infographic. This should not be surprising as college students generally lack experience when compared to seasoned employees.
Among different demographics, the pre-COVID unemployment rate is generally highest for Black people, followed by Hispanic people and lowest for non-Hispanic white people. Post-COVID, the unemployment rate increased largest for Hispanic students by 19.5% between March and April.
Analyzing the reasons for unemployment, I find the most common reason for unemployment for full-time college students among all demographics, according to CPS and the BLS, was temporary layoff (greater than 70% for all demographics), followed by reentry into the job market. Reentry into the job market during a recession implies that students are having to reenter the job market to support their livelihood. Among all demographics, 22.6% of all unemployed Black students had reentered the job market in April, followed by non-Hispanic white students at 17% and then by Hispanic students at 12.9%.
The reasons for such disparity in employment statistics by demography are beyond the scope of this column and include but are not limited to systemic hiring practices, individuals’ urgency to work, etc.
The situation appears pretty dire when compared to the national average, and even though the recent unemployment rate is decreasing, they are far from normal and continue the trend of disparity among demographics, according to a study by NM Ferguson, et al. with London’s Imperial College. This, in light of the fact that schools reopening would increase contact amongst students, in turn increases the possibility of a prolonged pandemic.
While it is true that students (or young people in general) are less likely to suffer the negative physical consequences of the pandemic, it is also true that a prolonged pandemic will force more students to abandon education and enter the job market. This situation warrants the attention of the university administration and appropriate aid must be provided to students.