David Little of Tampa, Florida, obtained his master’s degree in architecture and was excitedly waiting for his girlfriend to finish her degree before the couple moved to Philadelphia. The coronavirus pandemic halted those plans as they both struggled to find work matching their education.
“I have no idea what I’m doing right now. My plans were completely ruined by all of this,” said Little, 26, who was working as a valet before he was laid off in April. “There are no jobs out there even nationwide for entry level architecture grads, there is no real end in sight, and with my girlfriend not having any income because she’s also in architecture, it’s causing tension that wouldn’t normally be there.”
Like many young people, Little has been hit hard by the economic collapse in the wake of Covid-19. He’s uncertain of what will happen when his unemployment benefits run out at the end of this year, no longer has health insurance after turning 26 this year, and has already racked up significant credit card debt to cover bills over the past few months.
Before the pandemic, younger people in America were already making substantially less money than older generations, even compared with when those older people were young. In 1989, baby boomers controlled 21% of the nation’s wealth; millennials controlled just 5% of the nation’s wealth in 2019.
And coronavirus has made life worse.
From spring 2019 to spring 2020, unemployment among adults ages 16 to 24 increased from 8.4% to 24.4%, compared with an increase of 2.8% to 11.3% for adults 25 and older. Young Black (29.6%), Hispanic (27.5%), and Asian American (29.7%) workers are experiencing even higher rates of unemployment. One-third of young Americans in the current labor market are classified as underemployed.
Lane Klumb, 24, of Winona, Minnesota, was furloughed from his job in retail in March 2020 and wasn’t recalled until October, for a seasonal position.
“Between all the bills I accumulated during my furlough, I am still currently paying off credit cards, as I needed to max all of my cards out just to pay my bills and have food,” he said.
Shortly after returning to work, Klumb had to quarantine due to exposure to a colleague who had tested positive for coronavirus, but Klumb received no pay for the time he missed because he did not test positive. Through all of this, he is still trying to afford tuition fees at Winona State University to complete his degree.
“Bills don’t just stop coming in because you’re unemployed and you make less than you did before,” said 23-year-old Alyssa Desmore, a full-time college student in Oxnard, California, who currently lives with her parents and receives only $98 a week in unemployment benefits while waiting to be recalled to her job at a local school district. “I have no idea when I’ll be able to return to work. My college has moved to completely online, so it’s been a hard transition when at least two of my classes aren’t able to be easily translated from a classroom to an online course.”
Will Peters, 21, of Fort Collins, Colorado, is facing a second furlough from his job at a local hotel as a rise in coronavirus cases have prompted another shutdown.
“It’s been completely overwhelming,” Peters said. “We’ve had multiple waves of layoffs and the hotel is barely operating, with most employees working multiple positions so the hotel can still attract visitors while cutting costs. I’ve spent all summer avoiding friends and family to work for guests that visit from all over the country with no forethought for their own safety or the safety of the workers.”
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the US Census Bureau, 52% of Americans ages 18 to 29 now live with their parents, an increase of 2.6 million Americans since February 2020 and the highest rate since at least the Great Depression.
About 6 million young Americans completed a high school, associate’s, or bachelor’s degree at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, with many starting careers in a poor job market where recovery could take years.
Young Americans were also excluded from federal stimulus relief funds. Americans ages 17 to 24 who were claimed as a dependent were not eligible to receive a $1,200 federal stimulus check earlier this year.
The economic devastation wrought on the young is also having a severe impact on mental health. As young Americans suffer economically, surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the percentage of young adults ages 18 to 24 experiencing suicidal thoughts increased from 10.7% in 2018 to 25.5% in August 2020 and nearly 75% of young adults struggled with at least one mental health issue.
Joey Ferriz, 24, who works as a janitor at a local college in Irvine, California, said the pandemic recession had taken a heavy mental health toll on his friends and himself.
Coronavirus had made it more difficult to spend time with family and friends, and his ambitions to return to school to obtain HVAC license certification and to get his driver’s license had been put on hold because of coronavirus restrictions.
“I’m still barely getting by,” Ferriz said. “Work has been more stressful due to coronavirus protocols and I wish there was more awareness for mental health in young adults.”