Gen Z college grads struggle to launch careers in pandemic economy. ‘I chose the worst year to get my life together.’
Kevin Zheng had big plans lined up as he prepared to graduate in the spring with a degree in criminal justice from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The 23-year-old thought he’d enter the job market well-prepared, with an internship at the Chicago Police Department on his resume.
But the COVID-19 health crisis upended that plan. His internship was canceled, his graduation was delayed until August, and he sat in his bedroom for the virtual commencement ceremony. Now he’s looking for a job in a pandemic-induced recession.
“I chose the worst year to get my life together,” said Zheng, a first-generation college graduate who lives in Chicago’s McKinley Park neighborhood.
As the coronavirus pandemic wears on, Zheng and other recent college graduates are grappling with a tight job market, high unemployment rates and pressure to find work to pay off student loans.
At the start of the year, Generation Z, typically defined as those born after 1997, was headed into the workforce during the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. But now the unemployment rate in Illinois for those ages 20 to 24 is 15.5%, one of the highest among all age groups in the state, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.
With more employers cutting jobs