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South Carolina college grads entering the best job market in years

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Charleston Southern University held its commencement ceremony earlier this month. College graduates across the country face one of the strongest job markets in several years. Provided/Richard Esposito/CSU

The class of 2018 doesn't know how good it has it.

This year's college graduates are entering the workforce at the peak of the job market. Unemployment for recent grads is as low as it has been in a decade. Employers' hiring plans are as robust as they've been since the recession.

If this year is anything like last year — and by most accounts, it will be — exceedingly few will be looking for a job by the end of the year.

That's a far cry from the years after the Great Recession, when the jobless rate for young graduates was nearly twice as high.

By March, it was down to 3.8 percent nationwide, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. College-educated workers who are more established in their careers are faring even better, at 2.4 percent.

Take Clemson University for example: When it surveyed the class of 2011 six months after graduation, close to a third of them were still looking for jobs. That rate stayed high for class after class.

Last year, it plunged to just 4 percent, meaning only one in 25 students was still on the hunt. Career center director Neil Burton says the rest either found work or found something else to do, such as enrolling in graduate school or joining the military.

That's not all surprising: The job market for graduates, after all, mirrors the market for everyone else. And the landscape for the rest of the economy is pointing up.

Employers advertised 6.6 million job openings in March, which is the most recorded since 2000. And in an unusual development, there are as many openings as there are unemployed workers. Usually the people outnumber the positions. Right after the recession, there were nearly 7 people out of work for every job opening.

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Established workers are using their feet to give the economy a vote of confidence, too. People are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate in 17 years, suggesting that they're comfortable making a leap for a new gig.

The tightness in the market has put businesses in a bind, but it's good news for the class of 2018, which has already gotten a taste for how competitive the landscape has become.

At the College of Charleston, the size of career fairs has mushroomed in the past year, and a couple hundred more companies have asked about recruiting students, according to career center director Jim Allison.

The college joined a national employment database, which helped attract attention, but it has also seen a spike in students participating in fairs, another draw for recruiters.

"It's an arrow pointing straight up," Allison said of the number of employers contacting his office.

Question is, how long will that momentum continue? Nationwide, the answer is murky, but there's some indication that this is about as good as it gets.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers, for instance, says that companies are keeping their hiring plans more or less steady for the first time in years. Employers had been hiring more and more graduates each semester, but this spring, they're pulling back ever so slightly, about 1.3 percent.

That hasn't happened since 2010 in the depths of the recession. But this time, the reductions don't appear to be widespread: The organization says insurers and retailers account for most of the cutbacks.

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703. Follow him on Twitter @thadmoore.

Watchdog and Public Service reporter

Thad Moore is a reporter on The Post and Courier’s Watchdog and Public Service team, a native of Columbia and a graduate of the University of South Carolina. His career at the newspaper started on the business desk in 2016.

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