The golden age?
All generations have been fundamentally impacted by Covid-19, whether it be from a health, social or economic perspective, as it remains clear that the pandemic is not going anywhere for some time.
It can be argued, however, that young people may have drawn the shortest straw in many ways – entering the workforce, studying or looking for their first job during a time of historic global economic downturn.
This is a generation who have been portrayed time and time again in the media and policy landscape as a group who live for today without thinking about tomorrow, aren’t good with money, and are spending frivolously. The discourse around avocado on toast is a prime example. From a PR perspective, many hot takes have been delivered on this allegedly irresponsible generation.
However, just this week it was reported that nearly half a million redundancies have been planned by businesses in the UK since the start of the pandemic. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that the career disruption to young people caused by Covid-19 will have lasting impacts well beyond lockdown. This is compounded by the fact that people in their 20s are increasingly concentrated in low-paid occupations. Specifically, those under 25 years old were also more likely to be furloughed than any other age group.
It is true that some sectors have been hit worse, like hospitality and retail, where jobs cannot simply be done from home. These sectors also have a disproportionately young workforce as highlighted by the Resolution Foundation. A report from Young Minds found that the coronavirus pandemic has also severely impacted young people’s mental health and their ability to get the right support.
Students’ experiences have similarly been altered like never before. As Covid-19 continues to spread exponentially at universities, many institutions have now cut off in-person teaching in a bid to stifle the rise in cases. This comes as online graduate job vacancies fell by 60% in the first half of 2020 while apprenticeships stalled. It is therefore unsurprising that half of university students believe that the pandemic has reduced their chances of finding a job when they graduate. The IFS has, however, highlighted that poor job prospects means that many may decide to stay on in education instead, leading to a more skilled workforce in the long-run.
The latest ONS data on young people’s wellbeing in the UK (which uses pre-pandemic data) shows that an increasing proportion of people aged 16 to 24 reported they were finding it difficult to get by financially. With the state pension age having risen to 66 and set to rise further to 68 and beyond, young people have many more years of work still to come. In this context, sensible personal finance and long-term planning fall by the wayside as young people focus on more immediate priorities such as rent, paying off student debt or getting a mortgage.
Politicians are taking note. On both sides of the spectrum, there has been some appreciation of the struggles young people are experiencing. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak developed a ‘kickstart jobs scheme’ for young people, while Labour has called for more regional support as significant salary gaps outside of London were revealed. The Prime Minister also committed this week to lowering the prohibitively high costs of first-time buyer deposits.
Young people will continue to be impacted by this pandemic – and often without savings to fall on. At such a critical time in their lives where it’s clear they’ve drawn the short straw, maybe it’s time to collectively cut them some slack?