Editor Discusses Economic Repercussions of COVID-19 on Gen Z

By Anna Synakh | | Copy and Social Media Editor

Over the past six months, the world has experienced numerous negative side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the globe, people are enduring economic instability, lacking access to proper healthcare, losing productivity, and feeling emotional dread. Even though many of these side effects are temporary, some are permanent and have yet to show their true damage. The effects of the pandemic on high school and college students are among those yet to be determined. For a significant part of these students, summer is not normally a time for relaxation; it is time to advance their careers and plan for their future. This summer, such preparations have been cut short because most internships were canceled or postponed indefinitely. These cancellations have forced many young people to stay with their families, drowning their sorrows in food and Netflix binges; and their troubles likely will not end with the return to campus. The postponement of the necessary work experiences and graduating into an ongoing recession could have an irreversibly negative impact on the lives of these young adults. 

Generation Z, similar to their millennial predecessors, is now prepared to face debt and economic instability in the first decade of their careers, as youth unemployment has become twice as high as the overall unemployment rate in the US during their lifetime. Student loan debt has been growing exponentially for the last half of the century, causing 70% of grad students to enter the job market with at least $40,000 hanging over their heads. The economic forecast for Generation Z has always been worrisome, but with the damage, COVID-19 has already caused to the global economy- and the damage that it might cause in the long term- the prospects might be much worse. 

One of the ways to predict what lies before the youth of America in economic terms is to look at the wealth trends for millennials, who entered the workforce following the 2008 recession. Statistics show that although those born in the 1980s and 1990s have acquired higher levels of education than baby boomers, they still earned 20% less at the same stage of life and consequently carried more debt. These disproportionate earnings and arrears have caused their overall wealth to be 40% lower than that of baby boomers. Although millennials represent the most populous generation, they head half as many households as baby boomers, and about two-thirds of those headed by Generation X. Even worse, millennials head the highest percentage of impoverished households. According to Paul Krugman, a Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economic Sciences, those graduating during a time of global economic crisis never fully reach their full potential of economic stability. Millennials present a very strong case for this.

Based on this archetype, we can hypothesize that Generation Z will soon grapple with similar, if not worse, economic consequences of recession as millennials. The generation of young people who will soon graduate from colleges and universities will enter a job market that is marked by a nearly 15% unemployment rate and overall economic instability. The cancellation of internships and summer opportunities could worsen these issues, as students will be unable to make proper connections in the workforce and will have minimal numbers of companies to reach out to post-graduation. The need for jobs requiring a degree has fallen drastically over the past months, and students who sought experiences in their fields of study are now hoping to receive a job at their local grocery store. But these positions are not ones that are not typically published on LinkedIn account, and they will be of little help in long term career planning. If Generation Z is to follow previous trends, the majority will remain in such positions in their early thirties. It is expected that many will graduate with even higher debt than what millennials endured, with no way of paying it off. Economic stability will become a story of the past, as two consequent generations struggle to make ends meet. 

Even though the world has experienced global recessions and economic struggle before, it has not been exposed to a pandemic as severe as COVID-19 in quite some time. Over the past few months, we have witnessed social change and uprisings in multiple countries. We have newly learned the pitfalls of our systems and have come to understand that the world requires change. It is very possible that Generation Z is doomed, but it is also feasible that this pandemic will ironically allow our generation to flourish by altering the way we perceive economics, government, and society in general. “Moments of crisis show us that the ways we’ve been doing things actually hinder our existence,” states Michele Moody-Adams, a professor of political philosophy and legal theory at Columbia University. “They hinder our success in life, and they challenge human well-being in problematic ways.” In order to balance out these challenges, new jobs, most likely ones we have never thought of before, will become available. A new understanding of the meaning of “wealth” and “well-being” will enter our society and success will be defined by one’s ability to adjust. And there is nothing Gen Z knows better than to adjust: Gen Z grew up with grand technological breakthroughs, a recession, political change, and social revolutions they themselves led. If Gen Z carries the same adaptive ability to the job market, it might just prevent economic failure and assure they come out on top. 

Anna Synakh is a Copy and Social Media Editor. Her email is asynakh@fandm.edu

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