I cannot imagine how my life would have changed if the pandemic had occurred during my late teens or early twenties instead of in my later years. What if I had never landed my role in retail, at the mall, that led to a management position? If I had never worked in the local video store would I have cultivated the skills that I learned from such a thankless environment? There is something to be said for those jobs that you have when you are young. The work I did right out of high school, and throughout college, helped teach me more about working in the real world than college did. Those are the places where our mettle is tested. Where we are expected to work grueling hours for little pay, and deal with atrocious customers who believe they are always right. That may not be the trajectory for everyone, but it is the case for many people who have to put themselves through college or choose to skip college entirely. Those are formative years and experiences and, in my opinion, they are priceless.
Gen-Z will feel the effects of the pandemic for years to come
Experts are theorizing that the long term, negative effects of the pandemic could impact the younger members of Generation Z (born 1997-2012) more than those of any other generation. We are already beginning to see a massive effect on Gen-Z and it is hard to imagine that things would not continue along this path. Missing out on this crucial time in development where skills are built and experience is gained, could continue to cause unemployment or less job growth and security for this generation. A large portion of them will have missed out on more than a year of crucial experiences. How far does this set them behind? How does this shift their motivation and work ethic? I can only imagine that if I had resigned myself to unemployment checks, because none of the jobs I was qualified for were available, I may have found myself comfortable doing less. I may have developed a desire for jobs that were less grueling. I may have missed the opportunity to truly grow and develop as a new member of the work force. Obviously this opinion and generalization, but the questions need to be asked. The same way that we have to wonder about the long term effects of masking our small children when they are learning to read facial cues and emotionally connecting with their peers, we have to wonder how removing the ability for 18-year-olds to grind it out at a difficult and low paying job will shift their mindset in the future and keep them from going as far.
They are experiencing double the unemployment rates of older generations
Gen-Z unemployment was almost double that of their older counterparts in 2019 and 2020. Why is this the case? Well the simple answer is that many Gen Z-ers worked in industries that could not be converted to remote employment. A large percentage of them work in food service or retail environments that were not considered essential at the outset of the pandemic. In addition to this, there is also evidence to suggest that this generation experienced the most stress as a result of the pandemic. According to WebMD, “The American Psychological Association has released reports this year that found Gen-Z adults were most likely to have a hard time making major life decisions due to uncertainty around the pandemic, and they were more likely to say the pandemic had affected their mental health.” This could also be a determining factor when it comes to the unemployment rates. Fear of Covid, and the unknowns, certainly may have contributed to Gen-Z adults not wanting to seek out alternative employment in essential businesses. Manuel Pastor, a sociology professor at University of Southern California stated, “Many [Gen Z people] are experiencing an existential decision: Do I go out and work, and potentially get sick? What is my safety worth?”
Extremely high numbers of Generation Z utilized unemployment benefits. On top of that they experienced greater rates of food insecurity, which is defined as “the state of not having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” The psychological impact of being unemployed and experiencing food insecurity can be just as damaging as the physical effects of losing out on formative years of work and experience.
Generation Z or Generation Resilient?
These Generation Z-ers might have to catch up in ways that the older generations don’t. They will need mentors and support systems now, more than ever. But despite the odds and the statistics being stacked against them, some are rising like the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes. Those with the mindset and the tenacity to achieve greatness have taken a look at this whole experience through an entirely different lens. As a result Generation Z has begun to be rebranded, Generation Resilient. Mikel Broady, a 21 year old, featured in Forbes talked about his experience, “Beyond anything, the pandemic influenced me to further discover and define myself. Amidst isolation, I faced a crossroad with my newfound free time: indulge in it or strategically use it to further understand and love the person I’ve seen in the mirror for two decades. After months of reading insightful books, fighting internal battles, and keeping an open mind to learn from others, I can genuinely say that I’ve never been more aware of who I am and my purpose. As a result, I’ve further learned how I can influence others for the better.”
This take on the future of Gen-Z gives me a renewed hope and excitement for the young generations who have been through so much disaster during a time that is supposed to be filled with promise of a bright future. I know that with a positive mindset and a lot of hard work this generation can overcome the hand they have been dealt, and I am truly hopeful and excited to see that happen.