COVID-19 leads to dramatic unemployment, young people suffer the most
Updated 14:50, 29-May-2020
By Lin Zhang

More than one in six young people have stopped working since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic while those who remain employed have seen their working hours cut by 23 percent, according to the latest International Labor Organization (ILO) data.

The COVID-19 economic crisis is hitting young people harder and faster than any other group. Young people have to face many hard situations including disruption to education and training, employment and income losses, and greater difficulties in finding a job. The ILO also uses the term "lockdown generation" to describe young people facing multiple shocks from the COVID-19 crisis, including increased vulnerability to anxiety or depression.

From a regional perspective, the Americas' labor market suffers the most. Recently, a New York Times article was titled  "7.7 million young people are unemployed." It also says "nearly 7.7 million American workers younger than 30 are now unemployed and three million dropped out of the labor force in the past month." 

One in three young workers are now unemployed, the highest rate since the U.S. started tracking unemployment by age in 1948.

Among these young people, nearly 40 percent worked in retail and food service industries, where younger workers are typically the first let go and often the last rehired. The situation is even worse for people of color.

An effective way to solve this problem is rigorous testing and tracing of coronavirus infections. In countries with strong testing and tracing, the average fall in working hours has been shorter when compared with countries that don't take those measures. Testing and tracing can promote public confidence, encourages consumption, supports employment, and helps minimize operational disruption at the workplace.

Besides this, the economic downturn is likely to hit young women the hardest. A former ILO report shows that 41 percent of women are employed in sectors at high risk of job losses, compared with 35 percent of men. Informal female workers are under greater threat.

Society should be aware of how COVID-19 is exacerbating challenges women habitually face. Promoting gender equality rights can play a key role in returning to normal.

In 2019, the youth unemployment rate was 13.6 percent, a figure already higher than in any other group. Almost 267 million young people worldwide are not employed, studying, or undergoing training. Those who were employed are also more like to take informal jobs such as low paid occupations, part-time jobs, or as migrant workers. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting unprecedented challenges on its way. All governments should take effective measures to help this group. 

"If we do not take significant and immediate action to improve their (youth) situation, the legacy of the virus could be with us for decades. If their talent and energy is side-lined by a lack of opportunity or skills, it will damage all our futures and make it much more difficult to re-build a better, post-COVID economy," said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.