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Student Essay: The Covid Generation

Eva Solway.

Kellett School, Hong Kong.

The Covid generation: how will Covid-19 affect the lives of young people?

No matter what age or gender, or whether you come from a wealthy or poor background, Covid-19 has affected everyone. It has infected almost 300 million people and killed nearly 5.5 million people (as of January 2022), it has caused global government debt to increase by 13%, widespread unemployment and is argued by many to be worse than the 2008 financial crisis. While these may be impacts immediately associated with Covid-19, how has this changed the lives of young people? While the term ‘young people’ may be more fluid than other fixed-age groups, the United Nations defines a young person to be between the ages of 15 and 24. Therefore a young person, for this purpose, may be described as being in the process of transitioning from being dependent on others to adulthood and independence. Covid-19 has had a dramatic effect on these young people, predominantly for the worse due to the uncertainty that has followed.

Taking a year out of a young person’s education is not something that can be easily made up for, yet school closures have been a common tool used to contain outbreaks of Covid-19 across the world. The World Bank estimated that in 2020 students currently in school stand to lose $10 trillion dollars in labour earnings across their lifetime - this accounts for half of the United States annual economic output. In particular, this is due to the abruptness and unexpected nature of the school closures, where teachers and administrators have been unprepared to adapt their learning techniques and build emergency remote learning systems so hastily. Learning losses are likely to translate into even greater long-term challenges, as falling test scores correlate with future declines in employment, while increases in student achievement and more years of schooling lead to higher lifetime earnings. Therefore, without any intervention, the learning losses resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic will have a negative long-term impact on young people’s future access to higher education, job market participation, and future earnings.

An ever increasing number of studies from both high-income and developing countries show a significant reduction in student progress during school closures, particularly in students from less-educated households. This loss of learning further reduces the already limited options of these young people from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, and increases the probability of them being stuck in a cycle of poverty. Inequalities among young people have increased as children from more advantaged backgrounds have more resources to assist with their learning (e.g. more than one computer per family), and are more likely to have parental support. When parents are more involved in their children’s learning, cognitive test scores are found to be higher, reflecting the higher levels of educational attainment by students. This is particularly the case for children with more educated parents, who are already more likely to be growing up in socioeconomically advantaged households. A survey taken in 2020 showed that 75% of parents with higher academic education felt they were able to support their children in their education, compared to just 40% of less educated parents. Gender also appears to play a role in increasing education inequalities: Covid-19 puts young girls at an increased risk of dropping out of school, facing child marriage, being vulnerable to domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence, and being exploited as child labour. 11 million young girls are predicted by UNESCO to never return to school following the pandemic. Temporary school closures in 180 countries have kept a total of 1.6 billion students out of learning, complicating efforts to reduce learning poverty. While some countries have previously put in great efforts to alleviate learning poverty, the progress made is being diminished by the Covid-19 crisis. The above points demonstrate the effect that Covid-19 has on both socioeconomic and gender based inequalities for young people.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused something of a ‘lost year’ for a lot of young people and a gap in their resumes due to missed work experience. The lack of work experience creates a lot of pressure for graduates to make up for lost opportunities. Even before the pandemic, 61% of jobs in the US required at least 3 years or more of work experience, which is now even more difficult to achieve due to Covid-19. For students who graduated in 2020, they emerged into one of the toughest job markets in decades, and a global economy that was set for the deepest recession since World War 2. They were looking for jobs in companies with frozen recruitment programmes, an economy dealing with high unemployment rates and they faced a lot of competition for job openings. Out of the 2020 graduates, just 18% secured jobs compared to the pre-Covid level of 60%. EY, the professional services firm, reported in 2021 that graduate applications have increased by 60% since 2019, and 12% since 2020. In many businesses, the slight preference for graduates - often willing to accept lower wages - is still present, but these roles are more likely to be short-term or part-time which is not suitable for those looking for more long term employment with career prospects. From a survey in 2021, 50% of graduates felt that the pandemic had set back their future career prospects as many couldn’t find a job that suited their career aspirations. Moreover, more than a third felt they had to change their career path due to Covid-19. An issue further compounding this problem exists for those who have secured employment, but are interested in exploring other economic opportunities. These individuals are reluctant to leave their current employer due to the uncertainty Covid-19 has brought; there is a clear priority for young people to secure any job rather than seeking fulfilling work as a consequence of Covid-19.

The rate at which pollutants are being emitted into the environment will be an increasingly prominent issue for today’s young people as they will face the consequences in the future. Due to Covid-19, there has been a significant but short term reduction in environmental pressures. In almost all countries, the pandemic and subsequent response measures resulted in reductions in environmental pressures larger than corresponding reductions in economic activity. By 2040, although the reduced environmental pressure and economic losses are projected to wane, some environmental gains will remain, especially in non-OECD countries. This reflects the positive impact Covid-19 may have on young people, as future concerns over climate change may potentially be reduced. There is also the prediction that a slower recovery from Covid-19 may double the global long term environmental improvements made, although this will almost certainly be more harmful to the world economy. Although energy-related emissions dropped by 7%, as the global economy recovers, some argue that emissions will rise again and return to pre-Covid baseline projection rates. Changes to environmental pressures in the long term will depend on a multitude of economic drivers and regional variables. The uncertainty regarding the impact of Covid-19 on economic activity is partly due to the recovery plans made by different countries being constantly tested or postponed due to unpredicted shocks. In addition, the extent to which recovery packages steer government support towards environmentally relevant sectors is yet to be investigated and may provide further uncertainties towards future environmental pressures. The growing ease of accessing vaccines may also decrease the likelihood of a prolonged recovery, and produce large emissions and waste themselves. Despite these issues, the prospect that Covid-19 has had a positive and somewhat long term impact on the environment is generally agreed upon, therefore potentially reducing the pressure on young people in the future to deal with such matters.

Covid-19 has reduced the expected learning experiences which are vital for young people and their transition into adulthood. While Covid-19 may have the ability to partially alleviate inevitable future tensions resulting from climate change, the unfamiliar challenges faced by young people due to the pandemic are overwhelmingly negative relative to any positive effects. Moreover, the impact that Covid-19 has had on climate change isn’t definitively known, and neither are the future emissions contributing to climate change. As a result, we cannot accurately predict to what extent the reductions in emissions due to Covid-19 will offset future emissions if we don’t know either value. Reflecting the large extent to which Covid-19 is a threat to young people, both currently and in the future.

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