What did the Covid-19 pandemic reveal about youth employment?

Photo by Chloe Leis on Unsplash

Commissioned by the Resolution Foundation and funded by the Health Foundation, this survey of 6,100 adults explores experiences of worklessness throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The results reveal concerning implications of the pandemic on future employment prospects of young people in the UK.

There was a significant downturn in youth employment at the start of the pandemic and during the initial periods of lockdown in 2020. Employment prospects for 18-24 year olds improved by spring 2021, however, and this research survey determined why. First was the introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which helped young employees keep jobs that could have otherwise been at risk. Second is the quick re-entry of younger workers on temporary or insecure contracts into job sectors that were closed during lockdown. Third is that 3% more 18-24 year olds moved into full time education following the pandemic outbreak.

As might be expected, the largest factor in rates of worklessness during the pandemic was the type of work that people were engaged in. People employed in the arts and hospitality, for example, whose industries were largely closed during lockdown were 49% more likely to be out of work for a period of 3 or more months during the pandemic compared to other sectors which averaged at 18%.

Race and graduate status are two factors in addition to age that appear to have impacted on worklessness brought by the pandemic. 28% of young people from Black and minority ethnic groups who were employed prior to the pandemic experienced worklessness during lockdown, as opposed to 22% of white people in the same age group. Graduates aged 18-34 also lost work due to Covid at a lower rate (19%) compared to those who were non-graduates (30%).

Source: the Resolution Foundation
Source: the Resolution Foundation

While unemployment has now dipped to a lower rate for 18-24 year olds than before the start of the pandemic, one third of young people have already experienced periods of unemployment which could lead to issues with employability further down the line. Of those who experienced unemployment and have since returned to work after the pandemic, one third are in insecure employment, such as zero hour or short-term contracts. This is additionally worrying as research shows a strong correlation between periods of worklessness, job insecurity, and poor quality of work with an increase in mental health problems. Results from the survey show the proportion of young people with a common mental health disorder increased between May and October from 47% to 51%.

Source: the Resolution Foundation
Source: the Resolution Foundation

One of the key takeaways from this research is that ongoing efforts need to be made to ensure the long term impacts of lockdown unemployment for young people are minimal. To prevent a further decline in mental health and to guarantee stable job opportunities in the future, local employment and government support services must do more to protect the next generation of workers.

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