After two months and filling out 25 job applications, Kelsey Conway, a sophomore at the University of Mary Washington, finally found a job working at Wally’s Ice Cream downtown. Now working for $7.50 an hour, just above minimum wage, Conway is one of the lucky ones.
Senior economics major Brian Fulton searched for a job off campus for nearly a month.
“I even applied to be a barn hand, but apparently I wasn’t qualified enough to scoop manure and throw hay around,” said Fulton. “That’s when I got discouraged.”
The sluggish national economy has hurt student employment prospects. While the U.S. Department of Labor reports that 162,000 jobs were created in March, the Fredericksburg unemployment rate stands at 10.7 percent. That is substantially higher than the Stafford County unemployment rate, which sits at 6.5 percent.
The current state of the economy has caused an increase in the number of students who want to work on-campus. Angie Pitzer, the campus employment supervisor at UMW’s Financial Aid Office, stated that she has seen an increase in the number of students applying for student employment compared to years in the past.
Getting an on-campus job at UMW can be competitive, though. Pitzer said that while UMW usually employs around 650 students per year, approximately 400 student employment applications were turned down this year.
However, she added that these numbers can fluctuate throughout the year. Some students may quit mid-semester, and there are students still wanting jobs. Pitzer stated that there may be over 700 student workers at different times during the year.
This year, Pitzer said that more students are keeping their jobs semester-to-semester, rather than quitting. This trend keeps the number of employees up, but also decreases the number of open positions. Students turned down are kept on a waiting list.
With tightened state budgets, UMW has eliminated some on-campus jobs. At the beginning of the semester, UMW eliminated its desk aide program. This decision left 25 students unemployed, but saved the university $30,000.
“I understand that they needed to make budgetary cuts, but it’s upsetting they decided to cut money that goes to students who are already cash-strapped,” senior Cassandra Ratti, former desk aide, said.
For the remaining jobs, student employment is based on department budgets. While the University does not have a limit on the number of student employees that can be hired, the number is dependent on each department’s budget.
This affects both the wage and number of hours a student can work per week. As a result, most students are allotted a maximum of 10 hours of work per week with the hourly state minimum wage pay rate of $7.25 an hour.
Low wages and hours have not deterred many UMW students from seeking out these jobs.
“I really needed the job, and it was so convenient,” Erin Gunzelman, a junior geography major, said.
Pitzer noted that the pay rate does vary, depending on the skills for the job. She added that the highest wage given to student employees is around $10 per hour.
These problems are likely to be compounded since summer is just around the corner. Some students still remember the difficulty of finding summer employment last year.
“I looked all summer, applying to things from Va. to D.C., from architecture firms to restaurants to shops at the mall,” Melissa Carll, a recent UMW alumna, said. “It wasn’t until August that I got someone to even call me back.”
New York-based Ipsos Public Affairs recently completed a survey commissioned by SnagAJob.com, an hourly employment service website, on summer employment trends.
The survey found that 47 percent of businesses did not expect to have seasonal hiring this summer, while 18 percent expect to hire fewer workers than last year.
In June, at the peak of last summer, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded that 18.5 percent of 16 to 24 year olds were unemployed, the highest percentage ever recorded.
While these numbers look foreboding to students hoping for summer employment, Shawn Boyer, chief executive of SnagAJob.com, said “the summer job front is pretty good news.” His reason is that negative unemployment trends have finally subsided.
“It’s a relief that we’re not again seeing the kind of negative trends that we saw when comparing expectations for last summer with ’08,” Boyer said.
Lacking employment options, many students have turned to internships. Ryan Klein, a senior economics major, said that finding an internship has proven to be difficult.
“I wanted to get an internship because I think it’s a good way to get experience in the field I want to work in, and maybe even get a foot in the door,” Klein said. “It seems like even the unpaid internships are very competitive now. I’m having a lot of trouble finding one for the summer.”
The New York Times reported that some businesses are replacing paid secretarial work with unpaid internships. Mohammed Yousuf, a senior international affairs major, said that he didn’t learn anything at his internship.
“It was just a bunch of busy work and running errands,” Yousuf said.
Despite everyone’s difficult experience with finding employment, though, they will keep looking for jobs.
“It’s hard to find a job, but I need one,” Yousuf said. “I’ll take whatever I can get whether it’s on campus or off.”
–Chas Jefferson, Kevin Kallmyer, Eun Ji Kim and Phoebe McMullen contributed to this report.