The pandemic has skyrocketed unemployment rates, with more than 42 million Americans newly out of work or underemployed as a result. While all industries have been affected and employees at even the highest levels face layoffs or reduced pay/hours, certain sectors and groups of individuals have been affected disproportionately. This is particularly true for young adults (ages 18-24) without postsecondary degrees.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more than 6.5 million young adults in low-wage jobs did not have and were not pursuing a post-secondary degree prior to the pandemic. Nearly half of them were working in industries heavily impacted by the statewide lockdowns. Think restaurants, hotels, retailers.
This means that millions of young adults are currently out of work, likely without savings. It’s hard to put anything away when you’re making the average of $10.22 per hour, or worse Pennsylvania’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. And there is no guarantee that those jobs will come back. Many restaurants and retailers, including the big chains, won’t reopen. Those that do may be forced to restructure how they deliver services. That could mean fewer employees.
Now more than ever it is apparent that we must - as a society - examine the opportunities available to young people. We must address not only the inadequacy of pay in many employment sectors but also the accessibility of postsecondary degrees. While young adults with postsecondary degrees also face unemployment right now, their chances of recovery are greater.
The coronavirus has given us the opportunity to examine the structure of our society and the inequities and disparities within it. Now, we must take the next steps to find and create the solutions to help repair it.