Katy Steele

Unemployment drops in April, uplifting news for Elon, Burlington community

As the national unemployment rate drops, the economy is beginning to look up for the United States. Economists are calling it a slow economic recovery, good news not just for the nation, but for local Burlington residents and Elon University students.

One month before college graduation, the national jobless rate for April hit 7.5 percent, its lowest level since the beginning of 2008 when the jobless rate was only 4.9 percent. Unemployment skyrocketed in 2009, reaching 10.2 percent, and taking almost three years to get back under 8 percent. Today, many Elon students seemed positive about their job prospects after graduation.

“I think that as a current senior it was a little bit spooky going into this year knowing that [the jobless rate] was so high,” said senior Madelyn Smith, “but I think a lot more people are hiring and it’s really uplifting.”

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Source: United States Department of Labor

A student’s undergraduate major seemed to be a factor in their confidence about landing a job. Junior Jeff Stern, who will be interning this summer at Google, said he is very confident in his computer science degree.

“The job market doesn’t look great for a lot of people,” he said, “but luckily I’m in a field in the computing science department where they’ve had a 100 percent success rate as far as getting jobs after graduation.”

But even students studying for degrees that aren’t necessarily hot ticket items in the job market seemed confident.

“There was a huge fear when television came in that radio would die out—and we still have radio,” said sophomore Christopher Price, a print and online journalism major. “I’m not necessarily nervous. I know that if I go to a good school, and work hard, I should be fine.”

The jobs report released in early May by the United States Department of Labor affirmed the value of education in the job market. The jobless rate for the least-educated workers, those who had not graduated high school, rose to 11.6 percent up from 11.1 percent in March. On the other hand, unemployment for those with a college degree rose only 0.1 percentage point to 3.9 percent.

However, for Burlington resident Anita O’Donnell, 56, who had worked in construction for 22 years

before losing her job in 2009, her qualifications were a hindrance to becoming employed. O’Donnell sought help from the unemployment office, but they told her finding a job would be difficult.

“They said, ‘You’re not going to find a job because you’re going to be over qualified for Wal-Mart or you know, the labor jobs,” she said. “‘You’re going to be overqualified and people are not going hire you because they know that you’re not going to stay. It really makes it hard.”

Nationally, unemployment rates had been steadily declining over the previous months down from

O'Donnell's business, The Roost, has been opened for three months. O'Donnell said she is very pleased with its success so far.

O’Donnell’s business, The Roost, has been opened for three months. O’Donnell said she is very pleased with its success so far.

7.9 percent in January, and the economy added 200,000 jobs to the private sector, which economists predict will be the average monthly pace for growth by early next year.

O'Donnell, 56, was always passionate about painting and art, but said she never imagined she could turn it from a hobby into a job.

O’Donnell, 56, was always passionate about painting and art, but said she never imagined she could turn it from a hobby into a job.

For O’Donnell, creativity and entrepreneurship were her ticket out of unemployment. She turned her passion for art into a small business called The Painters Roost, located on Huffman Mill Road in Burlington. The store teaches customers how to paint canvases, and O’Donnell also sells art and refurbished furniture in the store.

“I don’t think that I would ever retire. I love it, I absolutely love it,” she said. “Sometimes, you think things happen for a reason.”

WATCH: Hear how O’Donnell went from unemployed to small business owner

The unemployment rate reflects two key factors, according to Lisa Arnette, manager at the Division of Employment Security in Burlington.

“The unemployment rate is cyclical,” she said. “Two things cause it to go up or down: the number of unemployed or the number in the labor market.”

Sometimes the employment rate drops when discouraged workers stop looking for a job, or retire, effectively leaving the work force and trimming the unemployment rate. April’s low jobless rate, however, was a positive trend representing more jobs and not a dwindling workforce.

As Elon students prepare to enter the workforce, many said internships play a crucial role in having job security.

“I’m not nervous about finding a job when I graduate,” said sophomore business major Ryan Swirsky. “I’ve already got an internship I’m applying for that will put me in a good position to get a good job later on.”

If Swirsky lands the internship, he will spend the summer interning for Rolls-Royce in their jet engine department.

“[The jobless rate] affects Elon students because they’re becoming more aggressive,” said Barry Bradberry, associate dean of admissions and financial planning at Elon University, “they’re getting out there and they’re having internship and co-op experiences much earlier than they did before.”

Besides internships, Bradberry points to the Student Professional Development Center as reason for Elon students’ confidence in the job market.

“We are head and shoulders above most other universities in the country,” he said. My colleagues at other schools, they’re crawling trying to get to where we are.”

85 percent of Elon alumni from the Class of 2102 indicated in a survey that they are employed, have been accepted to graduate/professional school, are completing a post-graduate internship/fellowship, are working for a service organization or are voluntarily taking time off. 66 percent of all respondents are employed and 86 percent reporting employment indicated that their current position is “related to my career objective.”

Although the private sector is expanding, new health care law reform, may slow monthly job additions, which economists predict could dwindle by 5,000 this year and 10,000 in 2014, a visible effect caused by employers hiring fewer full-time workers in order to avoid paying health insurance for them.

“With the effect of Obamacare coming next year we’ll probably see lowering of hours of our employees just to be able to have insurance for them,” said Jeffrey Meyer, manager at the Burlington Panera. “A lot of people think they’ve got free health care, but they don’t—it’s not free.”

Even though the numbers overall seem hopeful, the jobless rate still remains much higher than is to be expected this far into the recovery, according to The New York Times.

In North Carolina, unemployment rates decreased in 99 of North Carolina’s counties, and remained the same in only one, according to the North Carolina Division of Employment Security. The highest unemployment rate in the state was 17.8 percent in Graham County, a community neighboring the town of Elon.

“It seems to me the little towns get hit the hardest,” said Kirk Gosling, Aramark employee. “We’ve got two different sides here. Some people are born with the ability to do it, you know they have good structure at home, whereas you have other people who are not born in that situation who don’t even know which way to go because they’ve never heard the words ‘maybe’ or ‘possibly.’”

No counties in North Carolina have jobless rates below 5 percent, while 44 counties have rates 10 percent or above.

Bradberry said he continues to trust that Elon students will be successful in the job market with the right preparation.

“I feel very confident that Elon grads are in a very good situation this year, but if they haven’t had an internship or a co-op that’s a leveler right there—you have to have that.”