In a guest column, Beschloss, who is also a graduate student in Stanford University’s journalism program, discusses the plight of college students amid this decimated economy and suggests creation of a government jobs program to combat unemployment.

By Cyrus Beschloss   

There was a point in the last few weeks when people started using air quotes when they said “spring break.” And if you ask any college student, “Spring Break 2020” flopped tragically.

Weeks college students normally devote to beach-trotting or late-night trips to hometown pizza joints have morphed into a battle for their financial and academic futures. Dens and kitchen tables nationwide have become situation rooms, where students and families convene to decide what’s next. 

The universal discussion for the makeshift situation room: what about jobs? Internships have been canceled, job offers yanked and dreams stunted. Until March, college seniors were rubbing their palms as they surveyed a healthy job market. Now, students will be launching their careers in a recession and an economy that could see up to 32%  unemployment by June.

And if past meltdowns offer insight, the unemployment surge will have outsized impact on young workers: Overall peak unemployment in the Great Recession of 2008 reached 10%, compared to 20% among workers aged 16-24. 

Experts warn that graduating into a recession can carve financial scars that don’t heal for decades. And according to a recent poll by College Reaction, 73% of students with jobs have already seen them canceled, delayed or shifted to remote work. 

Riley Cearley, a senior at Weber State in Ogden, Utah was set to start an internship in medical sales for Boston Scientific after winning a sales competition in Georgia in January. 

“[Boston Scientific] broke me the bad news they were canceling my internship and canceling all internships,” said Cearley. “The hardest part,” he added, “is the three or four networking events I would have gone to, got canceled.” 

As a fast fix, Cearley says he’s considering working at the local grocery store, because it is one of the few places hiring. Meanwhile, he’ll scope the market for sales jobs when they reemerge.

And Maggie Prosser – a junior studying journalism at Ohio University – did everything right. Summer internships in journalism and her leadership of an Ohio-focused publication helped her lock up an internship with the Philadelphia Inquirer this summer. But on April 2, the Inquirer pulled the offer. 

“This will forever be an asterisk on my resume,” said Prosser, adding “it scares me to think that when I graduate in May 2021 my job prospects may be impaired because I didn’t have an internship this summer.” 

There is an army of restless youth that is beginning to emerge from the economic wreckage: a brigade with skillsets ranging from computer science to journalism. The coronavirus torpedoed their first gig, but they have much to offer. 

Meanwhile, the virus has revealed key corners of the American economy that need maintenance. Expanding broadband access, rebuilding American infrastructure, going big on disease research and investing in local journalism are each moon shots on their own. 

Why not marshal the force of thousands of new grads to train their focus on America’s biggest goals? 

Blueprinting a set of ambitious work programs – like a youth Works Progress Administration – would accomplish three things: First, it would employ the thousands of young people whose jobs has been canceled, or adjusted beyond recognition. 

Second, it would curb the blow to the economy of thousands of students graduating into a barren job market. 

Third, it would turn relief into fuel. While we surely need relief for students in the short-term, such a program would create jobs for young people working on projects that take the country forward. It would build muscle rather than stanch bleeding. 

Once the shock of the pandemic has shrunk into a bitter memory, there should be a college class reunion – and not the usual sort. The class of 2020 ought to meet the class of 2009 to vent and commiserate over their rotten luck. They’ll trade notes on how they negotiated the thorniest of job markets. It’s our job, now, to make sure the class of 2020 has enough to cover the tab.