It might take up to 15 years for the class of 2020 to catch up financially, but a recession expert says there's an upside to graduating right now

Gen Z is walking into a grim economy.Scott Olson/Getty Images

Gen Z is in for a bumpy ride.

The class of 2020 is graduating into a grim economy: The unemployment rate surged to 14.7% in April, a number not seen in nearly a century, since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The US lost a record 20.5 million jobs in April. That's roughly 25 times the worst monthly decline seen during the Great Recession, Business Insider's Carmen Reinicke reported. It also exceeds the record set in 1945, around the end of World War II.Advertisement

Younger workers have been hit hardest in the coronavirus job market, which spells bad news for the Gen Zers seeking entry-level jobs. Stanford research shows that those who graduate during a recession could see stagnation in financial growth for up to 15 years.

Look no further for evidence of this than the oldest millennials, who are still struggling with the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis that put their wealth levels 34% lower than where they would be otherwise.

But Hannes Schwandt, the assistant professor at Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy and author of the Stanford research, told Business Insider this delay in wealth accumulation isn't necessarily due to the lack of jobs that characterize a downturn. The problem is that recession graduates on average start at "lower quality" jobs.
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For example, instead of starting at a blue-chip company, a graduate might kickstart their career at a smaller, lesser-known place, at lower pay. But being forced to play financial catch-up can have benefits in the long run, Schwandt said.

"Over time, what you see in these cohorts is a higher degree of mobility from one employer to the next," Schwandt said. "It helps them climb up the quality ladder." Bouncing around the job market may not sound ideal, but it can result in major salary increases. Consider Erin Lowry, author of "Broke Millennial." She changed her job four times in six years, doubling her salary and advancing her career more quickly than if she had stayed at one company.Advertisement

Schwandt said he believes that such job-hopping will help motivate Gen Z to look for more opportunities and teach its members more about what they do and don't want in a job. "The more difficult starting position doesn't mean they can't get to their spot where they are supposed to be," he said. "In the end a more flexible work-life gives you a broader horizon."

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