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COVID-19 Poses Long-Term Employment Impact for Young Adults, ILO Warns

One in six people under the age of 24 stopped working during the pandemic, and more than 70 percent of students experienced closures of schools, universities, and training centers in May. Thirteen percent of young adults saw their education and training come to a complete stop since the pandemic began. According to a new International Labour Organization (ILO) poll of 12,000 young people in 112 countries, the “scarring effects” from these gaps may haunt young adults throughout their working lives unless governments provide support.

The report, Youth and COVID-19: impacts on jobs, education, rights and mental well-being, found that 65 percent of young people reported having learned less since the beginning of the pandemic, whether due to transitions to online learning or school closures. Despite their efforts to continue studying, half of the youths surveyed believed their studies would be delayed; 9 percent thought they might fail. Students in lower-income countries are further affected—while 65 percent of youths in high-income countries were able to participate in online learning, only 18 percent in low-income countries could continue studying online.

Younger workers are also more likely to be employed in occupations highly affected by the pandemic: support, services, and sales. Of young adults who continue to work, 42 percent have seen their incomes reduced.

The ILO urged governments to help reintegrate jobless youths into labor markets, provide educational training, or beef up unemployment insurance benefits, Reuters reports.

According to ILO employment policy director Sangheon Lee, young women and youths in low-income countries are among the hardest hit, and “unless urgent action is taken, young people are likely to suffer severe and long-standing impacts from the pandemic. We believe there is a genuine risk of the ‘lockdown generation’ who will be scarred throughout their working lives.”

Young adults polled for the ILO research have bleak outlooks for their future career prospects; 40 percent say they are facing the future with uncertainty, and 14 percent with fear.

Previous crises have shown that young people who lack job opportunities early on in their adult lives face ongoing personal and professional consequences. In particular, Lee called out mental health challenges in a recent press conference, citing that some 17 percent of young people unemployed during the pandemic reported suffering from anxiety and depression—nearly twice the rate of those still employed.

Young people haven’t surrendered yet, though. The survey found that about half have sought new learning opportunities, despite the crisis. While most enrolled in courses to advance job-specific or technical skills (54 percent), many others reported interest in a variety of training offers, from foreign languages to problem solving and teamwork.