For governments and policy makers, COVID-19 is a chance to address the existing problems for younger European workers as youth unemployment looks set to peak.
Europeans in their teens and twenties might be at minimal risk from COVID-19 itself, but they are at risk of significant financial impacts as the true economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis becomes clear.
Already experiencing high levels of unemployment and under-employment before the spread of COVID-19, young people are likely to be disproportionately impacted by pandemic-induced job losses because of the industries they often work in, like hospitality and retail.
A number of studies like the European Restructuring Monitor (ERM), which monitors the employment impact of large-scale restructuring events in Europe is, among others, looking at the employment experiences of young Europeans during and after the pandemic. These researches aim to recognize the specific needs of young people as recovery policies are considered.
According to official figures released by the European commission in June 2020, 2.962 million young persons (under 25) were unemployed in the EU, of whom 2.360 million were in the euro area. The youth unemployment rate was 16.8 % in the EU and 17.0 % in the euro area, up from 16.2 % and 16.5 % respectively in the previous month. Compared with May 2020, youth unemployment increased by 124 000 in the EU and by 80 000 in the euro area due to the pandemic. This has significantly affected the Europe 2020 employment target of increasing the population aged 20 – 64 to at least 75%.
For young people, we know that the longer they are out of work, the more likely it is that their skills and productivity deteriorate, as do their self-esteem and mental health. Young people who have lost jobs during this pandemic, or were on the cusp of entering the workforce, risk missing out on building much-needed skills and experience during the crucial early stages of their careers. Further, unemployment and inactivity among young people have a high cost and require targeted policies. Unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, at the start of a career can have negative long-term consequences such as lower future earnings and worse employment prospects (the so-called ‘scarring effect’).
Research shows that young workers were already acutely exposed to job stressors and under-employment, too. Losing a job and the supports that come along with it means that one’s financial stability is at risk, and so is their mental state. Not all young people are equipped or resilient enough to bounce back into an unsteady job market occasioned by an invisible enemy the world is yet to get either a vaccine or a cure for.
Many young people are now out of work and worry about when they will return to the labour market and what kind of job they will return to. Good jobs not only provide youth with an income but also enrich their lives. They are able to be held accountable, be productive, work towards goals, interact with others, have a sense of accomplishment and so many other factors that are invaluable to their general growth.
Job losses and financial hardship generally hit young casual workers hardest during an economic downturn. Young workers are vastly over-represented in the sectors hardest hit by current measures. Young people are more likely to work casually compared with any other age group. Many young people choose casual work because of study commitments, but for some, it is all they can get.
As the labour market attempts to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19, unemployment will continue to be a significant problem. Many businesses simply will not survive while others will not be able to keep the number of workers they had before COVID-19. In a working-world where ‘experience’ is paramount – and where you need experience to get experience – we risk marginalising a generation of young people as they navigate a shrinking labour market.
As young people are already over-represented in unemployment and under-employment statistics, it is vital to recognise and address their needs in recovery policies to ensure this crisis does not exacerbate existing inequities for younger workers.
Tangible, targeted and ongoing support is needed as is the case with the work that the Youth Impact project is doing; through striving to help different organisations become more sensitive to the needs of young people looking for jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities. It is designed to support employment organisations to initiate a process of quality improvement, in which the impact assessment is usually the starting point.