How educated young professionals deal with unemployment in the wake of a global pandemic and call for workplace accountability

After over a year of quarantine, stimulus checks, and protests demanding racial justice, what does unemployment look like, and how does it relate to the new hiring landscape for young professionals in New York City?

As of May 19, New York state began reopening most businesses and public settings for fully vaccinated people, in accordance with CDC guidelines. The city lifted the curfew on bars and restaurants, kids returned to school, and subways now run non-stop (except for the classically unexpected re-routes and delays you’ll encounter only when you’re in a hurry. Classic MTA).

While NYC’s vaccination rate is steadily increasing, the city’s unemployment rate remains at a stark 11.4 percent, as of April 2021 – almost twice the current nationwide rate of 6.2 percent. A staggering 505,000 people filed for state unemployment benefits for the first time the week of Monday, May 24, 2021.

Rachel Crawford, 29, interned at an architecture firm while working on her Masters in Architecture from Northeastern University. The same company offered her a position immediately after graduation. One week into quarantine, she was laid off.

“I don’t know if they panicked or what, but they laid off about a third of the office a week into the pandemic,” said Crawford. “There were some people that had been there for 30 years.”

Millennials specifically (those born between 1981-1997) make up 26 percent of NYC, making them the largest age group in the five boroughs. According to a report done by the Community Service Society of New York, millennials make up almost half of the low-wage workforce.

The recession of 2008-2009 caused a depression in wages for the years following. Nearly 11 years later the Covid-19 pandemic hit, making it that much more difficult for young professionals to find stable work, affordable homes, and overall security.

According to a report done by the Community Service Society of New York, millennials make up almost half of the low-wage workforce.

After moving to the city and working multiple part-time jobs at once, Beth Miller, 33, was promoted at an art museum to a full-time group sales position.

“It was sort of my first full-time position with steady income and benefits. I also worked part-time as an usher and an art model, but it was the first time I had gotten a stable job,” said Miller.

A few weeks into quarantine, Miller was furloughed (relieved from work without pay), but with an understanding that she would return when the museum reopened. A few months later, the museum permanently let Miller go.

“In September they brought back a large part of the staff. I didn’t know who else was let go and neither did the people still on staff. Nobody reached out to me because nobody knew I was laid off.”

As the pandemic caused more aspects of the modern workforce to change, companies began hiring for new positions reflecting the state of the country. 

According to LinkedIn’s “Jobs on the Rise” report published in January of this year, the number one emerging job trend this year was frontline e-commerce workers – a.k.a: the essential workers who continue to brave the world outside of quarantine to bring us our Seamless orders. This also includes gig workers and warehouse employees. 

Other popular hiring trends seem directly related to the new standard amongst workplace culture. More in-demand positions include loan and mortgage experts (for the home buying boom caused by the pandemic), mental health specialists (for COVID-induced trauma), and data scientists (for organizations forced to move online-only).

Businesses also began hiring for a brand new occupation – diversity, equity, and inclusion officers. Recruitment for these positions increased by 90 percent compared to 2019, with the push expected to continue into the years following.

Young New Yorkers voiced their support towards civil rights groups such as the Black Lives Matter movement and rallies to Stop Asian American Hate, and have expressed how diversity and inclusion will play a large role in their new job search.

Jennifer O’Brien, 31, worked as a customer success representative helping different nonprofits plan fundraising events. Now that there’s no such thing as “events,” O’Brien is unemployed but decided to pursue higher education to become a nurse. She talked about her worries when it comes to workplace diversity, specifically how it relates to the reception of medical care.

“There’s this racial inequality when it comes to healthcare,” said O’Brien. “I want to make sure the hospitals I’m working for have good ratios of ethnicities and maternal survival rate. If they don’t, I want to know why.”

Racial discrimination affects health care throughout the country. Most recently, a study in May 2020 showed that Black and Latinx people were more likely to die of COVID-19. A similar study in England showed Black and Asian citizens held higher death rates from the virus than white people.

“I was going between social work and nursing for a long time. I knew that I wanted to switch careers,” said O’Brien. “I wanted to do something a little more hands-on and meaningful. And COVID-19 kind of kicked my butt into choosing nursing and really wanting to be on those front lines helping people.”

Many millennials wonder where to begin their search, considering NYC’s current unemployment rate and the recent changes in office culture. Marie Delage, a Diversity Talent Sourcing Specialist, recommends reaching out to others in your field and taking advantage of networking opportunities.

“[Unemployment] can be really lonely because it’s a lot of self-reflection,” said Delage. “I want people to know they’re not alone and I can help. I don’t just give people tips for their resume, but actual actionable things.”

“Google a company’s name and see if you can attend a networking event. Those events are usually hosted by recruiters. During the hiring process, companies are making quick judgments. Getting to know people there will definitely help.”

It seems that’s something all young professionals agree on. In order to get themselves through this challenging time in their careers, asking for help is one of the most important things.

“Unemployment can be really lonely because it’s a lot of self-reflection…I want people to know they’re not alone and I can help” – Marie Delage

“It’s okay to take a step back,” said Crawford. “Everyone is going through this and there’s still time to live your dream. If you leave the city, it’ll still be here waiting for you.”

Now that more and more New Yorkers are vaccinated, it’ll soon be time to start the job hunt yet again.

If you’re searching for jobs, check out networking events in NYC, search the NYC Government job site, or use LinkedIn to find professionals in your desired field. You can also read our guide here by career expert Dr. Orin Davis on how to find a job during the pandemic.

Most of all, remember you are not alone – the rest of us ambitious, overpriced coffee-buying, avocado toast-loving, fed-up with society millennials are there with you every step of the way.

Read this article by Built In NYC to see companies hiring right now!

Madeline Clough

After growing up and graduating in Iowa, Maddie lives like a true New Yorker (a.k.a. eating bodega sandwiches and avoiding Times Square). She currently resides in Washington Heights with her roommate and the cat that lives in the laundry room of her apartment building. Maddie splits her time in NYC between coffee and alcohol - she would love to join you for either.

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