Students feel pressure of bad economy

by Beacon Staff • February 4, 2009

Junior Matt Fetonti is happy to finally have a job. After searching since September, the television production major will be the guy standing on busy sidewalks asking if you have a minute for human rights. While Fetonti said canvassing for Amnesty International isn't his ideal choice for work, he has reached the point where he can no longer be picky if he wants to maintain the typical college-student lifestyle.

"There are no other jobs anywhere else," he said.

Other Emersonians, like Fetonti, who hold jobs outside of school are looking into the economic abyss, and it's looking back at them. Job availabilities have become few and far between, and students like Fetonti jump at any opportunity to earn a paycheck. The Commonwealth's unemployment rate reached 6.9 percent in December 2008, a 2.6 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.

And as graduation approaches, anxiety is building for seniors hoping to land a job-any job-with their newly minted Emerson diplomas.

The lack of employment opportunities is only too obvious on the hunt now. Fetonti said he exhausted all of his options before turning to Amnesty International, keeping his eyes peeled for "Help Wanted" signs, and applying through Craigslist and Emerson's own job listings on the eHire website.

"I just never heard back from anyone," he said. "I was willing to do snow shoveling in Brookline, but the guy never even got back to me."

Things will get worse before they improve, according to a new report on U.S. metro regions by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and The Council for the New American City. The report predicts the greater Boston area will suffer the fifth biggest job losses in the country this year, and that the city's unemployment rate, currently at 5.5 percent, will rise by half a percent by the end of the year. That rise in unemployment will dovetail with the first student loan bills the class of 2009 will receive.

Since Emerson is a school dedicated to preparing students for a career in communication and the arts, students are worrying the economic crisis will mean less of a chance of getting jobs in their field.

"Yes, these jobs will be harder to come by, but so will so many others in all types of fields," said Carol Spector, Emerson's director of career services. "Students will need to position themselves in the best light they can and get as much experience as possible while a student."

She also said graduate school is a good option for students who know exactly what career they want to pursue, and that Emerson can help with networking with alumni.

Junior Noel Keady is already eyeing graduate school. "My mom always used to joke that I should get plumber's training to fall back on with a major in film," said Keady. He also said it now seems like a real possibility.

Keady began looking for new employment about a year and a half ago after the Java Jo's coffeehouse he had been working at in Milton burned down. He had just transferred out of Saint Anselm College and needed money for both living expenses and future classes at Emerson. He began working as a cashier at Golfer's Warehouse in Braintree, where he worked flexible hours around his school schedule.

On the links, "People were talking about the economic recession before it even happened," he said.

His problems started over Christmas break, when he requested another shift to supplement his Sunday shift, which paid him time and a half. His managers gave him a Thursday shift, but then employees from other Golfer's Warehouses, which were closing, flocked to his in Milton, and he lost his lucrative Sunday hours. Once they were gone, Keady said they were nearly impossible to get back.

"Basically, I was working four hours a day, one day a week, for minimum wage," Keady said. "I wasn't so much fired as my managers suggested I find work somewhere else."

Keady's is a common story: College students are having a harder and harder time finding employment because jobs that normally catered to student workers are now going to anybody who will take them.

"People who used to turn their noses up at certain jobs now think that a McDonald's application is looking pretty good," said Keady. "Everybody is looking for anything they can get... The toughest thing to do is to take jobs you think you're too qualified for."

Freshman Hannah Goldberg, a marketing communication major, and her friend, Jessie Tolbert, also a freshman writing for film and television major, spent nearly three hours job searching on Jan. 29. Goldberg said she got so tired of being rejected by stores that she started applying at high-end retailers, like Coach and Burberry, just for fun.

"A lot of [the managers] just seemed sympathetic," Tolbert said. "You feel frustrated, you wonder why nobody is looking out for you."

Kathryn Flynn, a freshman marketing communication major living on campus, began applying for jobs earlier this week to earn a bit of extra money, but she quickly realized that it would be more complicated than she thought.

"It was an eye-opening experience," she said. Flynn submitted her application to the shoe store Aldo and was invited to partake in a group interview that day. She had been to other stores in the area, none of which were hiring.

"I was really qualified for the job, and I'm the typical candidate to work in a store like that," she recalls thinking during the interview. When she went to the interview, too many people had shown up for the meeting to be conducted in the store, so the manager took them to the Wendy's across the street where they could have more space.

"The manager prefaced the interview by telling us that he could only afford to pay minimum starting wage with one or two shifts a week," she said.

Looking around, Flynn said she noticed the majority of candidates were in their late twenties and thirties, some even in their forties.

"The manager asked where people had previous experience," she said. "These were people who had worked for ad firms, law offices, in marketing. Now they're sitting in a Wendy's applying for a minimum wage job."

She also said she noticed that her fellow interviewees had full availability every day of the week, something that, with classes, she could not offer. Flynn's application is still pending.

Competing with people with more job experience than a college student is difficult, said sophomore Rachel Sierzputowski. The writing, literature and publishing major said she applied for eight different jobs since the beginning of the semester, but has yet to receive any good news.

"I'm not dead broke yet," she said. "But I'm getting there fast."