Young people feel heat from pandemic


Employees manufacture face masks at a company near Paris last month as COVID-19 continued to spread in France. GONZALO FUENTES/REUTERS

Jobs lost, salaries cut and friends missed

Siti Nur Afiqah, 26, lacked the motivation to study when she heard that the coronavirus pandemic was spreading across the world early last year.

"It affected my life tremendously and was stressful," said Siti, a final-year undergraduate student from Malaysia at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Due to lockdowns, Siti, who headed home to Malaysia for the winter break, was unable to return to Beijing. For the past year, she has stayed with her parents and studied online.

She believes the pandemic has had a severe economic effect on young people, particularly those who have just completed their university studies and are looking for jobs.

"When COVID-19 spread, some of them were even losing jobs due to the economic impact, while others were experiencing salary cuts or job downgrades while trying their best to survive," she said.

Flowers are prepared for export in Facatativa, Colombia, on Feb 1. LUISA GONZALEZ/REUTERS

Siti felt stressed and was worried about finding work during the pandemic, but she has gradually started to think positively.

She said that although she misses her independence by staying with her parents, she has been able to reduce her living expenses considerably.

Siti added that she is confident China and Malaysia will win the battle against the pandemic and that life will return to normal.

Evidence suggests that young people are less at risk of developing severe symptoms related to coronavirus than those who are older.

However, the pandemic has had a devastating effect on the education and training of young people, according to the report Youth and COVID-19: Impacts on Jobs, Education, Rights and Mental Well-being issued by the International Labour Organization, or ILO.

More than 70 percent of people ages 18 to 29 who study or combine their studies with work have been severely affected by closures of schools, universities and training centers, the report found. Some 65 percent of young people said they have learned less since the pandemic emerged, as classes have been moved online during lockdowns.

Moreover, 65 percent of young people in high-income countries have been able to take classes via video link, but only 18 percent of this group in low-income nations continued to study online due to a lack of access to the internet, equipment and even space at home.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said: "The pandemic is inflicting multiple shocks on young people. It is not only destroying their jobs and employment prospects, but also disrupting their education and training, and having a serious impact on their mental wellbeing."

The report said 38 percent of young people feel uncertain about their career prospects, as the pandemic is expected to result in more labor market barriers, meaning that it will take longer to find work after graduation.

Others have already felt the impact. According to the report, one in six young people have stopped working since the onset of the pandemic.

In many countries, younger workers are more likely to find jobs in sectors that have been badly affected by the pandemic, leaving them more vulnerable to the economic consequences. Some 42 percent of young people who have continued to work said their income has been reduced since the outbreak emerged.

Hospital employees register for COVID-19 vaccination in Manila, Philippines, on Feb 9. ELOISA LOPEZ/REUTERS

Greatest concerns

Guan Zihao, 26, who worked in a lamp factory in Zhejiang province, had his salary cut from 5,000 yuan to 2,000 yuan ($774 to $309) a month after the pandemic began.

Unable to make ends meet, he moved back to his parents' home in Jiangxi province, where he now works as a deliveryman.

"For months, I have been looking for a proper job where I can use my expertise, but it has been difficult to find one with the level of income I had before. Some of my colleagues face a similar problem, as there has been a significant contraction in the lamp factory's exports," he said.

According to a global survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, disruption to young people's access to education and employment opportunities due to the economic downturn is likely to put them on a "much more volatile trajectory" in finding and maintaining quality jobs and income.

The study, carried out among those ages 15 to 24, said young people's three greatest concerns are the toll the pandemic is taking on their employment prospects, education and mental health.

In China, a report from the consultancy Amber Education said that in the first half of last year, 76 percent of Chinese overseas education enterprises reported a fall in the volume of student counseling compared with the same period the previous year.

Moreover, during the pandemic, 68 percent of students have decided to postpone their plans to study abroad, 13 percent have changed their study destinations, and 16 percent have abandoned plans to go overseas, the report said.

He Chugang, Amber Education's general manager for South China, said that with borders closed, flights canceled and universities shuttered or adopting remote learning, students' study plans have obviously been affected.

"However, Chinese students desire high-quality international education resources. It takes about two years to apply to overseas universities and get an offer, so many people won't give up. With vaccines and continuous epidemic control, we remain optimistic about the industry," he added.

Young people practice combat sports in Milan, Italy, on Feb 5 as gyms are closed. MASSIMO ALBERICO/FOR CHINA DAILY

Lost contact

In the United Kingdom, a survey by the mental health charity YoungMinds found that 80 percent of young people in the country said the pandemic had affected them mentally, with isolation and loneliness exacerbated by school closures and restrictions on movement.

Harry Butcher, 20, who studies economics and international relations at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, said that when the UK first went into lockdown in March, he had already been working on a farm for two months during the winter holiday.

"Fortunately, I was able to keep this job, as agricultural work is considered essential by the government. However, within weeks, many friends working in the hospitality and retail sectors lost work or had their salaries reduced," he said.

Butcher said that when the lockdown was imposed, he was dismayed at not being able to see friends. Moreover, the seasonal work he had arranged during late spring and summer at an outdoor activity center had to be canceled.

He said he began university studies in August and had tried to find a part-time job, but places in the UK that traditionally employ students, such as bars, restaurants and clothing stores, are nearly all closed at present.

"I've mostly been looking for part-time remote administrative and secretarial work, which seems to be one of the few areas where companies are still hiring, although I've yet to hear back from anywhere I've applied to," he said.

Butcher added that he is quite lucky he is studying nearly all the time, because he has a student loan to support him. However, friends who decided not to further their studies after high school have been less fortunate, as they have been unable to progress into their preferred careers and are stuck in lower-skilled jobs, such as warehousing and supermarket work.

"The overriding feeling among many young people in Britain is that our lives are on hold. It certainly appears that the occupations and sectors in which younger people work have been impacted far more by coronavirus than sectors in which workers tend to be older and more established," he said.

Butcher said he is not confident that COVID-19 will be fully contained and that life will return to normal anytime soon.

He added that the most worrying factor in the UK has been the inconsistent messages sent to the public and "flip-flopping on crucial issues-for example, the face mask policy".

In March, people were told that the effectiveness of masks was "very limited" and that there was no reason for anyone other than medical professionals to wear one.

"By July, however, they were mandatory in shops and on public transport, and in January, we were warned that we have 'blood on our hands' if we did not wear a mask," he said.

In the United States, Phillip Blue, 33, a psychologist from Chicago, said the pandemic is affecting people from all walks of life, and he is particularly concerned about those in blue-collar jobs, such as restaurant employees.

"As a psychologist, I feel that young people are struggling with remote learning, especially students who do not have a lot of home supervision," he said.

However, he added that he is confident that the US and Chinese governments will be able to curb the pandemic.

"I sure hope it's soon, because I really miss seeing my friends in Beijing and Shanghai. This is the longest I have gone without seeing them in person," he said.


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