America’s Promise Alliance Survey of Youth During Covid Indicates Difficult Employment Experiences During Covid-19

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, youth unemployment has spiked dramatically, and the ensuing economic fallout has widened the longstanding employment gap between young people and the rest of the working population.

The State of Youth Employment, a new America’s Promise report indicates two-thirds of young people say the pandemic has adversely affected their work life, with stark differences by race and gender.

As the recent Mathematica report revealed, the youth unemployment rate at the height of the pandemic was more than double that of the general adult population. Youth are often the first to be let go, the last to be hired, and major employers of young people—including the food service and hospitality industries—are significantly impacted by the pandemic. As the country recovers, BIPOC youth face greater inequities than past recessions.

To better understand young people’s experiences, the Center for Promise at America’s Promise Alliance surveyed more than 3,500 people aged 16-24 about their professional journeys over the past year.

The State of Youth Employment outlines major findings from the study related to young people’s experiences navigating the world of work during this complex time, the ways in which COVID-19 has affected their work experiences, and the role that racism and discrimination have played in their career trajectories.

“The survey results show the devastating impact of the pandemic, ensuing economic recession, and ongoing racial inequities on young people and their efforts to find jobs and access secure career pathways,” said Mike O’Brien, CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “Our nation is at a critical inflection point. In planning for economic recovery, decision-makers across the country have a historic opportunity to center young workers and job seekers, particularly those confronting the greatest barriers to opportunity.”

The Results are Grim

Among the findings from the nationally representative survey of 3,530 people age 16-24:

  • Nearly half (40.0%) of young people reported experiencing a sense of financial strain, with high levels of difficulty surviving financially, paying their bills, and affording basic healthcare costs.
  • More than two-thirds (67.8%) indicated that COVID-19 and the related economic recession have had some effect or a large effect on their work life (e.g., getting the job that they desire or achieving their career goals).
  • 1% report experiencing an elevated state of stress “about half the time” or more, and more than one in three young people (34.5%) reported feeling this way “most of the time” or “always.”
  • Among youth who are unemployed and those marginally attached to the labor market, three in four (76%) reported that COVID-19 has made their job search more difficult, and nearly one in three (31%) reported having stopped their job search due to COVID-19.

Just as the pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color, the survey results illuminate unique challenges, barriers, and discrimination faced by Black, Latinx, and Asian young people. Black and Latinx young people were significantly more likely to report that COVID-19 had adversely impacted their work situation (such as losing a job) than white or Asian young people.

The young people surveyed for this study provide a glimpse into the devastating impact the pandemic has had on their efforts to access work, gain a foothold on a career path, and fulfill both personal and professional goals. What’s more, the findings point us once again toward the ways that systemic racism, sexism, and other intersectional barriers constrain young people’s hopes.

“One of my biggest concerns is that if we are not aware, careful. and deliberate as a corporate community, we are going to repeat the inequitable hiring practices and outcomes of the past, thereby squandering what may be the greatest opportunity to shift the odds for our most marginalized youth in a generation,” said Charles Hiteshew, Hire Opportunity Coalition CEO.

YES Project

The insights garnered from this study underscore there is more to learn from young people about the factors that shape their experiences in the world of work. The YES (Young, Employed, Successful) Project, a national initiative launched by America’s Promise Alliance, was created to support and grow our youth workforce so that every young person seeking a job can find a job.

The YES Project is helping youth tell their stories about how COVID-19 is affecting their employment aspirations. A collection of video testimonials, opinion pieces, and social media from young people that captures their experience seeking employment as well as working during these challenging times are available at americaspromise.org.

Findings to Remember as the Economy Recovers

The student study indicates it is critically important—perhaps especially for employers—to consider the following as the nation contemplates strategies for economic recovery:

  1. Young people in America are struggling—they are financially strained, emotionally drained, and facing significant barriers to employment.
  2. COVID-19 and the related economic recession have disrupted young people’s work lives in myriad ways and prompted extraordinary levels of concern about the future.
  3. Young people encounter pervasive race- and gender-based discrimination in the world of work.
  4. The professional connections and supportive relationships that can help young people advance their work-related goals are out of reach for most youth.
  5. Young people’s hope about their future work lives is in jeopardy.

Despite the negative impact of the pandemic and persistent discrimination experienced in the workplace, it is worth noting that employers, youth-serving professionals, policymakers, and caring adults in communities can all play a part in creating a more hopeful future.