The coronavirus crisis has, devastatingly, claimed around 200,000 lives across Europe since the end of January. No nation has been left untouched. In the hardest-hit countries, entire communities have been shattered.
The impact, however, has not been felt by everyone equally. Everywhere, it has been the elderly who have suffered most. Across the UK, 0.01 per cent of deaths were people under 15, one per cent of those who died were aged 15-44, but around 75 per cent were over 75. This is not a disease that is targetting the young.
But, as Europe locked down, businesses closed and jobs were lost, the young have been disproportionately hit in a different way. Some fear these shocks from the coronavirus pandemic could result in them being scarred throughout their working lives, creating a so-called Lockdown Generation.
More than one-in-six people aged 18-29 have stopped working since the onset of the pandemic, according to the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO). Even those who have remained in employment have seen their working hours fall by 23 per cent. The ILO said that more than four-in-10 young people (between the ages of 15 and 24) employed globally were working in hard-hit sectors when the crisis began and nearly 77 per cent were in informal jobs.
Here in Europe, the situation facing the young is harshest in the south. Countries such as Italy, Spain, Greece and France, are all places where youth unemployment is already higher than the EU average, where the proportion of temporary or short-term jobs is higher and where economies are more reliant on harder-hit sectors such as tourism.
Even before the pandemic struck, Italy was the EU country with the highest proportion of people aged 20-34 who were neither in employment nor in education and training — at 27.8 per cent. That is well above the EU average of 16.4 per cent. Things have grown so bad that many who have lost their jobs have stopped looking for new ones because there simply aren’t any vacancies.
Overall, the European Central Bank forecast this month that under its severe scenario, unemployment would rise to an all-time high of 12.5 per cent next year – that would mean seven million job losses. A devastating blow.
And, for many, this is a double blow in less than a decade. Instability has come at the worst possible moment. The young who entered the labour market in the middle of the financial crisis between 2008 and 2013 are being hit just when they were starting to get on their feet. “The impact will be huge because young people are starting out in an already very vulnerable situation, characterised by impermanence and have not yet finished footing the bill of the previous crisis,” says María Ángeles Davia Rodríguez, a professor at the University of Castile-La Mancha.
It shouldn’t, then, come as a surprise that the number of young people between 16 and 24 who are feeling depressed has tripled for women and quadrupled for men during the crisis, according to research by the public health institute Sciensano.
Every generation has been defined by traumatic events, which can generate fear and uncertainty. These events change the way people understand the world and affect the way in which they make decisions and take risks. Today’s young people risk not only the prospect of not being able to get jobs in the short term but for the second time in 10 years they are confronted by forced life changes, long term lower wages and inevitable pressures, which for many will mean ambitions never fulfilled.
Darren McCaffrey is Euronews’ political editor.