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COVID-19 fallout takes a heavy toll on young workers

BEIRUT: Fishermen gather along Dbayeh’s seaside shore, north of the Lebanese capital Beirut. – AFP

LONDON: When Britain went into coronavirus lockdown on March 23, the management at Pierre’s employer, a recruitment start-up in London, told staff not to worry about their jobs. But just hours later, the 26-year-old received an email from his boss asking him to call. “I understood right away. It was fairly brutal,” he told AFP. He was then laid off with about 15 percent of his colleagues. Pierre is far from being an isolated case in Britain, which is gradually easing out of stay-at-home restrictions, after an outbreak that has left more than 40,000 dead.
The Resolution Foundation, which aims to improve living standards for low- and middle-income families, estimated up to 640,000 18-24-year-olds could lose their jobs this year. That will take the number of unemployed in that age group to over one million, the think-tank said. Its projection is backed up by the Institute of Student Employers, which said more than a quarter of companies are cutting back on graduate recruitment.

Internships are also being reduced by almost a third, it added, after questioning 124 companies. The pattern looks set to be repeated elsewhere, with concerns that job losses, purchasing power and confidence could hit young people, just as did in the 2008 financial crisis. Half of the world’s so-called “Millennials” – those aged 25-34 – and the “Generation Z” of 18-24 year olds were already feeling the effects of the global economic meltdown, according to a study by consultancy firm Kantar in May.

Other studies, including those from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the International Labor Organization, indicate the pandemic is worsening inequality. Young and less qualified people are often on the frontline in the fight against the virus, the OECD noted. The ILO said one in six under-29s had stopped working since the outbreak began and those who have kept their jobs have seen their working hours reduced by 23 percent.

‘Pretty scary’
The Kantar study indicated that a majority of young people expect to suffer the consequences of the crisis in the future — more than any other generation. Young women are particularly vulnerable.  British group the Young Women’s Trust said more than a third (36 percent) worked in sectors hardest hit by lockdown measures, such as catering, retail, leisure and entertainment. For men, the figure is 25 percent. The sectors are also major providers of part-time jobs favoured by students. In Spain – another European country hard-hit by the disease – unemployment has soared for young people aged 25 and under, reaching 33 percent in the first quarter of this year.

“Almost half of the job losses that have occurred since the start of the crisis are concentrated on people aged under 35,” said social security minister Jose Luis Escriva. One of them is David, 35, who was a lifeguard at a swimming club in Madrid until he was laid off on March 13, robbing him of financial security — and peace of mind. “You find yourself without savings, without money. It’s pretty scary,” he said. “My parents are giving me money until I get unemployment benefits, because otherwise I can’t pay the bills, the food, the rent for my garage space.”- AFP

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