Resources to Help Young Workers Through the Economic Crisis

Posted July 1, 2020, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Helping Young Workers Through the Economic Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred an economic crisis that has undercut some industries more severely than others. Among the hardest hit? Hospitality and transportation, two fields often filled by young workers and, especially, young workers of color.

With less education and shorter career tracks than their older colleagues, these young workers may find themselves looking for a new job within a grim employment landscape.

“We know it will take ambitious efforts to ensure that young people get the help they need to support their families during the current economic crisis and beyond,” says Allison Gerber, a senior associate with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

This post shares resources from Casey Foundation partners that explore why young workers are particularly vulnerable in today’s economy and what supports are necessary to help them realize a brighter employment future.

We hope that these resources act as a starting place for officials in the government, private and philanthropic sectors as they work to build bold programs that will address the varied needs of young people and others who are struggling,” says Gerber.

Keeping young people connected to education and work

Economic crises, including the 2008 recession, can spur long periods of unemployment — a downturn that is particularly detrimental for young workers at the onset of their careers, according to a blog post from the nonpartisan think tank New America. The piece also cites research indicating that such gaps can lead to depressed wages and increase a young person’s risk of future unemployment.

To prevent these outcomes, recovery programs should aim to keep young people connected to educational, training, mentoring and paid employment opportunities so they are not left disconnected from work for extended periods, the post says.

A second blog post from the think tank’s Partnership to Advance Youth Apprenticeship asserts that apprenticeships must be at the center of efforts to assist young people in today’s economic climate, particularly for the many unemployed members of Generation Z. Such programs — which allow young people to earn credentials and a paycheck while they train alongside skilled mentors — should be embedded in various recovery strategies, the piece suggests.

It identifies strategies such as:

  • back-to-work efforts for critical economic sectors, in which employers can benefit by accessing entry-level talent that they gradually develop; and
  • public employment initiatives and service projects, where apprenticeship programs can help governments address community employment needs and train new, skilled workers.

Establishing a federal jobs program

Young, low-wage workers without an associate or bachelor’s degree will be among the hardest hit as the economy falters, according to a recent Brookings Institution analysis (however, young people with college degrees will also struggle, according to the research).

To help young workers and others affected by the pandemic, the piece’s authors call for a federally funded employment initiative that would:

  • employ millions of people for at least three years; and
  • target young workers and those with a range of experience and educational backgrounds who may face challenges finding work.

Such an initiative could aid pandemic response efforts by bolstering the talent pipeline of in-demand industries, such as manufacturers producing protective equipment for health-care workers, community organizations ramping up food drives, and public health agencies conducting contact tracing. In addition, the federal government could expand programs that cater to young workers, such as YouthBuild or AmeriCorps, the piece says.

Accessing child care for young workers

Young parents — many of whom work in industries deemed “essential,” such as health care and social services — have encountered child care challenges during the pandemic, asserts an Urban Institute blog post. Some hurdles are new, such as shutting down daycare facilities and schools for extended periods of time. Other hurdles are familiar, like affording the high cost of child care when the family income drops.

To help support these parents, the blog post urges policymakers and other stakeholders to:

  • ensure that all parents have access to various child-care options, especially those working essential jobs or facing financial challenges;
  • provide public funding — or seek private funding — to hire and retain child-care workers and support staff;
  • secure spaces for child-care services, such as community centers; and
  • implement health protocols at child-care centers based on expert advice, such as limiting the number of people in classrooms.

Supporting students who are parents

Even pre-pandemic, many student parents struggled to make ends meet. Within this group, single mothers and Black student parents often hold significant college debt, which can add to their economic vulnerability during periods of unemployment, according to a fact sheet produced by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

Per the publication, government, philanthropic, educational and community institutions should:

  • increase emergency financial assistance to student parents;
  • provide access to affordable computers and internet service needed for distance learning;
  • assist student parents with various family needs, such as providing groceries, diapers, children’s books and educational materials; and
  • offer student parents flexibility around coursework deadlines, class attendance and project requirements as they juggle parenting and other responsibilities.

Learn about strategies for helping low-wage workers in uncertain times

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