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April 29, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Black tassel-clad caps rocket into the air and mark the end of strenuous academic study and the beginning of the employment race. With degrees in hand, 5.4 million new graduates join the workforce every year in search of the perfect job, but with staggering unemployment rates and few starting positions, many graduates are tripping over the first hurdle.
In the midst of this employment search is 24-year-old Justin Napier. After graduating from MU in May 2009, Napier decided against pursuing one of his goals: a doctorate in philosophy. “The economy was collapsing this time last year, and the market for teaching didn’t look too good,” Napier says. “Paying that much for school would not be worth what I would get in return.”
With no job opportunities in sight, Napier switched from being a part-time to a full-time cook at Arris’ Pizza. Still, he’s unsatisfied. “I enjoy cooking, but it’s really not a career opportunity,” Napier says, and his situation is not uncommon. A few fellow classmates have begun their careers, but most of Napier’s friends have returned to the same jobs they held throughout college.
This trend isn’t native to Columbia. Underemployment (or underutilization) is an unfortunate symptom of a continuously ailing economy. According to a Gallup poll in February, underemployment reached 19.8 percent, almost 10 percent higher than the national unemployment average.
With jobs becoming a rarity, Napier is glad to have work at all. Before spending the evening in the kitchen of Arris’ pizza, Napier passes most of the day doing chores and taking care of his puppy, Lucy. Luckily for Napier, his income is just enough to support his lifestyle. “I’m not saving anything. I’m just getting by,” Napier says, “I am lucky enough to work five days a week and still be able to pay my bills.” Napier’s workweek starts on Friday and continues until Tuesday. With his work schedule, Napier must make time to continue his job search. “With the Internet, it’s not too difficult to take a few minutes to search for a job,” Napier says. “It is hard to find time to go out and talk to people.”
Almost a year has passed since Napier’s graduation, and jobs remain scarce. “I didn’t want to leave Columbia, but now I’m starting to consider it,” Napier says, admitting to searching in cities such as St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. His eyes are fixed on achieving a managerial position within a growing company, but the future remains uncertain. “I want to do something I like to do, as opposed to just something to do,” Napier says, “I look forward to the future.”