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State unemployment affects 'U' students

BY ERIC CHIU
Daily Staff Reporter
Published June 28, 2009

For LSA sophomore Marie Brichta and most cash-strapped students, finding a job this summer has been an unprecedented challenge.

With unemployment on the rise in Michigan, Brichta — who has applied to work at more than 30 places, ranging from restaurants to clothing stores, since April — is still struggling to find a job.

"I haven't had much luck so far, and the job market discourages me, but I'm still looking," Brichta said. "If I see a hiring sign, I'll go in, and I'll fill out an application, but other than that my job search has really slowed down."

Brichta’s troubles are hardly unique. University students looking for summer employment face a competitive job market still reeling from the current economic downturn.

In May, Michigan’s unemployment rate hit 14.1 percent — the highest in the nation. Though unemployed students are not included in this figure, Lynne Sebille-White, senior assistant director of employer relations at the Career Center, said in an e-mail interview that high unemployment for adults has a strong effect on employment prospects for students.

“Those who had full-time jobs who are finding it difficult to find a new full-time position may take part-time or temporary positions, leaving less of these open for students,” Sebille-White wrote.

She added that the economy causes a trickle-down effect on spending, which reduces employment opportunities.

“When the economy sours, people cut back on spending and leisure activities, which decreases retail sales, (and the) number of people dining out or traveling, which causes those industries to cut back on their hiring, leading to fewer jobs for students, too.”

In a report release last week, University economists predicted the state will lose more jobs by the end of 2009 than in any other year since the 1950s. The report estimated about 310,700 will be lost — triple the amount calculated in November before Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corporation filed for bankruptcy.

The Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic growth found that unemployment in the Ann Arbor Metropolitan Statistical Area rose from 6 percent in May 2008 to 9.1 percent in May 2009, including a 1.3-percent increase in unemployment from April to May of this year.

The increased unemployment rate comes with an unprecedented amount of job applicants. Although fewer employers are hiring, numerous Ann Arbor businesses have seen a significant rise in the number of students and local residents applying for jobs since last summer. Yet few businesses can afford to take on extra workers.

At U Go’s Convenience Store in the Michigan Union, slower business has forced the store to cut back hours. The store is also no longer taking applications because it has already received more applications than managers can process.

U Go’s cashier Christina Wren said she has given applications to everyone from students to adults in their mid-40s, adding that she thinks the spike in applicants is because of the current state of the economy and the lack of available jobs.

“I think people are ready to take lower-paying jobs because of the economy being what it is,” Wren said.

Wren added that she thinks that people are now just “willing to settle having to make less.”

Vickie Crupper, associate director at the Office of Financial Aid, said that because of the economy, fewer on-campus and off-campus employers are posting listings on the Student Employment Office’s Web site for both work-study and non-work-study jobs.

According to Crupper, there were 1,019 fewer jobs posted on the Student Employment Office’s Web site during the 2007-2008 school year than the previous school year. The Web site posted a greater loss of 1,061 fewer jobs during the 2008-2009 school year.

Crupper wrote in an e-mail reponse that the decrease in job postings can also partially be accounted for by the increase in Michigan's minimum wage over the past couple years.

University employers can also attest to the current competitiveness of the job market.

Beth Theros, an administrative specialist and building manager at MedRehab — a University of Michigan Health System rehabilitation program for patients with brain injuries — received 388 applications only a few days after posting an opening for an entry-level position on the University’s job listing website in March.

Theros said those positions usually only get about a quarter as many applications and that several teachers and adults with master’s degrees applied.

“These are people that were laid off from other industries — they were downsized by another company,” she said. “So they’re out there scrambling to try and get another job.”

Sebille-White said in an interview students still looking for summer jobs should not be discouraged and should continue searching for openings and connecting with potential employers.

“It’s planning ahead, starting early if you can … being proactive, having their resume reviewed, building networks and connections with people who are working in the professions that they’re interested in,” Sebille-White said. “If you talk with them and say, ‘I’m really interested in the work that you … (do),’ those are all tools to help build some of those connections.”