Youth suffer again as Coronavirus crisis bites


The rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic has already taken a very heavy toll in terms of human life, as the total loss has moved beyond the 100,000 mark and the number of people infected approaches 2 million.
Most of those who have succumbed to the virus were elderly or already sick. There have been cases of the young also falling prey to the virus, but they are far fewer and farther between.
Though the youth may have so far emerged relatively unscathed from the crisis health-wise, the pandemic has hit them hardest in some other ways. The impact on them could ultimately be catastrophic, especially in the longer term.
The impact of the pandemic on young people is multifold. Firstly, educational institutions around the world were the first to be closed down following the outbreak.
Hundreds of millions of students are now facing an uncertain future, as there is little clarity over whether they can attend their examinations or what will happen to their academic year in case the exams are canceled.
A large number of students have little means to support themselves and their increasingly expensive education. Most are already forced to take up part-time jobs to earn a little bit to cover their living expenses.
A rising number are also carrying large loan debts that they have to begin repaying as soon as their education is over and they find a job.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit this portion of society particularly hard. Reports from around the world say that millions of jobs have already been lost due to the outbreak, with some projecting the final figure could be as high as 25 million. Most of these losses have come from a handful of rich nations in Europe and the US, where the unemployment rate has jumped in the past couple of weeks.
Data shows that the US unemployment rate for people between the ages of 20 and 24 rose from 6.4 percent to 8.7 percent last month. For those aged between 16 and 19, unemployment spiked from 11 percent to 14.3 percent.
The data is equally disappointing in other countries, especially Italy and Spain, where again the unemployment rates are shooting up and are bound to hit new highs, unless a miracle cure for the virus is found immediately.
Unfortunately, as in the US and other parts of the world, the businesses at greatest risk of collapse are those that employ the young. Researchers point out that, based on the demographics of workers in higher-risk industries, young people are set to be disproportionately affected by virus-related layoffs.
Young people are set to be disproportionately affected by virus-related layoffs.
The unemployment caused by the pandemic is likely to be much higher than the current predictions, as the crisis is yet to reach its full extent in the developing world. One can get an idea of the severity of the pandemic’s impact on the youth in poor countries from the initial data coming from India, where unemployment has already surged to almost 9 percent — a 43-year high.
With the country in complete lockdown, hundreds of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses across all sectors, but especially in hospitality, tourism, construction and several other aligned sectors, have been shut and millions of workers, most of them young, face an uncertain future. Even though the government has urged businesses not to lay off staff and continue to pay their salaries, thousands of firms are expected to shut up shop as they were already in bad shape before the outbreak due to an ongoing economic crisis.
For many, the layoffs and economic crises being experienced by dozens of nations will bring a sense of deja vu. Just over a decade ago, practically the entire world was in the grip of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The crisis that began with defaults at large financial services companies in the US soon spread across the entire economy and indeed the world, just as the coronavirus pandemic has done.
At its peak, the global financial crisis caused unemployment rates in many EU nations to shoot up to nearly 30 percent, with the youth rate as high as 54 percent in Greece.
It was only at about the end of 2017 that the situation turned around and unemployment rates returned to their normal levels. In the preceding decade, millions of young people suffered unprecedented hardship and uncertainty about what fate had in store for them.
This is mainly because, even though all politicians sing paeans to the youth, hardly anyone paid attention to them or brought in realistic policies to ensure that their future was secure.
Instead, governments announced hundreds of billions of dollars in generous bailouts for banks — the original culprits in the tragedy — and other large companies, while tightly controlling the purse strings as far as any aid to the youth was concerned.
Unfortunate as it may be, fate has presented another opportunity for the world’s political leaders to do the right thing by young people.
As the details of bailout packages are announced, it is crucial that they keep the future of the human race at the center of their plans. –AN