The Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on youth

The Covid-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War Two. Countries are racing to slow the spread of the virus by testing and treating patients, carrying out contact tracing, limiting travel, quarantining citizens, and cancelling large gatherings such as sporting events, concerts, and schools. The most urgent priority is to minimise the loss of life and health, but Covid-19 is much more than a health crisis.

The measures necessary to contain the virus have triggered an economic downturn and has also set in motion a major economic crisis that will burden our societies for years to come. The Covid-19 has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political crises that will leave deep scars.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, youth (aged 15 to 24) were already three times more likely to be unemployed compared to adults, while 126 million young workers were in extreme and moderate poverty worldwide (International Labour Organization, 2020). The increase in unemployment as a result of COVID-19 is expected to exceed the rise in rates of unemployment in the aftermath of the 2009 global financial crisis. Based on the 2009 experience, without targeted policy intervention, it is likely that youth will again be disproportionately affected by a global recession, with a higher percentage of young people being unemployed compared to adults, and a slower uptake of employment by young people during the recovery.

Moreover, young people tend to be harder hit than adults for several reasons. Young people are more vulnerable to the crisis effects than are adults and these effects are likely to be more long-lasting. This mainly happen because young people are at formative stages in their lives, at even they are more trained and/or educated than older people, their experiences at an early stage can have negative consequences in their working careers.

The economic and Covid-19 crisis affects young generation also because many young people are working in sectors that are particularly vulnerable to the global downturn, such as export-oriented manufacturing and the main informal sector businesses that are linked to manufacturing, whether as suppliers or as providers of services to manufacturing employees. During this and past crises, young people have often been disproportionately vulnerable to lay-offs and the already extensive barriers to first employment that young people face in many countries have been exacerbated. Often, during crisis young people are pushed into informal sector work with very poor pay and conditions and very few protective rights. They are disproportionately represented among those holding temporary contracts and ‘low-quality’ and low-paid jobs. Moreover, young women are more likely than young men to be unemployed, to be trapped in the informal sector and to remain outside of the labour force entirely. According several statistics, in Southeast Europe, young women are twice as likely as young men to be un- or underemployed.