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Hawaii’s Class of 2020 graduates to confront grim job prospects during coronavirus pandemic, UHERO says

As graduation nears, Hawaii college and high school seniors might face a slim chance of landing a job during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

UHERO reported that finding a job this year with unemployment in Hawaii hovering around 30% will be a daunting task.

More than 14,000 high school students and nearly 5,000 students with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hawaii will be graduating. One student from UH said he is worried about his future.

Raiyan Rafid, a senior, said it’s going to be tough to find a job after he graduates this semester with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“Especially for international students, because they only have so little time to figure things out and find a job,” said Rafid, who is from Bangladesh.

His plan was to work at UH once he graduates. However, the coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult for him to contact the immigration office. Rafid, who is on a student visa, fears that if he doesn’t find a job within three months after he graduates, he will be forced to go home.

“The worst part of this pandemic is that some people can’t afford to go through the uncertainty,” he said.

UHERO compared the effects of the coronavirus with past economic slumps — the Great Recession and the polio pandemic — that economically affected young adults.

According to Jesse Rothstein, professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley, job openings were at least 20% below their pre-recession peak for nearly five years. Adults age 20 to 25 who were neither working nor in school increased by nearly half.

In 1916 the polio pandemic hit the U.S. with 23,000 cases and forced schools to close and put a quarantine in place. The National Bureau of Economic Research reported that many high school students close to graduation did not return to school when they reopened. According to their analysis from the 1940 U.S. census, these students, who were 38 to 41 years old, completed fewer years of education than those who preceded or followed them.

“It would be a great tragedy if students from the Class of 2020 were left to drift around for a couple years and to have their knowledge and skill deteriorate,” the UHERO report said. “Next year there will be another crop of graduates pushing them from behind and another crop one year later. Those students will be more recently trained and likely to be preferred by employers.”

For assisting the 2020 graduates, the report suggested Hawaii Promise — the “last dollar” scholarship — as a program to pay the students’ remaining balances once funds are exhausted from federal awards such as Pell Grants and other scholarships.

Since 2017 the scholarship program has been available only to University of Hawaii community colleges and has served about 1,500 community college students. The average award was $1,200.

But Gov. David Ige and state lawmakers were pushing for House Bill 2250, which would extend Hawaii Promise to four-year students. It is unclear what the status of the bill is as the state Legislature reconvened Monday after about two months of recess.

The bill would make the Hawaii Promise available to UH students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in teaching, health care, social work or engineering, and committing to work in Hawaii for at least three years.

“If the Legislature are not prioritizing such things as Hawaii Promise, the next generation is in big trouble,” Rafid said. “They have to decide to go to school or work somewhere where they came make something of themselves.”

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