Young people are likely to be hardest-hit by the economic impact of COVID-19. But there are other ramifications, too – social isolation and a loss of those rites of passage that we took for granted just a few months ago. We look at how young South Australians are coping.

“I had my all my ‘firsts’ at uni not taken away, but all postponed,” says first year Flinders University arts student Harry Vlahos.

“Going to study together at uni, all working on the next test at uni or just going to hang out and all that – that was all gone very quick.”

Like thousands of other young people across Adelaide, Vlahos had expected his first year of university to mark the beginning of new friendships and a more independent lifestyle, but COVID-19 became a roadblock just weeks into the semester.

Now stuck at home and studying online, Vlahos says he has found it difficult to stay in touch with the friends that he made during the first two weeks of the semester, and to keep on track with coursework.

“I think I’m finding uni harder than it’s meant to be,” he says.

“In those first two weeks it was a lot easier than it is now.”

It’s not just university students who are struggling to adapt to a new world of social distancing and online learning.

“We were going to have the musical performance this term (but) that’s been completely cancelled because all the other dates had to be moved and rehearsals had to be cancelled.

“Even with the small role that I had, it was something that was a bit of a happy place, particularly with schoolwork and then having that co-curricular side.”

South Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People Helen Connolly says the state’s youth are experiencing the impacts of the coronavirus in different ways.

“The Year 12s that I’ve talked to, for them I think they’re feeling quite lost,” she says.

“It’s not just a year for them – it’s 12 years of schooling and I think there’s a whole heap of rites of passage that come with the Year 12 experience that they’re not getting at the moment.  

“The first-year uni students I think are struggling as well.

“This was going to be an amazing adventure and it’s not panning out that way, and for a lot of them, they don’t necessarily have those online learning skills, so they’re really finding it hard to connect in with the online learning environment.”

Here, InDaily explores how South Australia’s young people are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, what they say they are most concerned about and how the broader economic climate will shape their transition into adulthood once social distancing restrictions are lifted.

According to independent think tank the Grattan Institute, about 40 per cent of employed teenagers will lose work due to the coronavirus pandemic – the highest percentage out of any age group in Australia – with people in their 20s the second most-likely to lose their job.  

Young people make up a significant chunk, 40 per cent, of the casual workforce in Australia, with the majority working in industries that have seen the most job losses so far – accommodation, food services, arts and recreation.  

The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ latest jobs update shows that between March 14 and April 4 – the three weeks after Australia recorded its 100th confirmed COVID-19 case – jobs for people aged under 20 decreased by just under 10 per cent.

South Australia’s March youth unemployment rate sits at 14.1 per cent – up from 13.4 per cent in February and the second-highest figure in the country behind Queensland. And that’s before the full impact of the pandemic shutdown hit the economy.

“Young people are being disproportionately impacted by job losses due to COVID-19 and they will feel the effects for years,” says Youth Affairs Council of SA CEO Anne Bainbridge.

Graph: Grattan Institute: Shutdown: estimating the COVID-19 employment shock

According to the Grattan Institute, younger generations will bear the “long-term costs of a severe and prolonged recession” if government support is not forthcoming.

During the 1990s recession, it took three years for the unemployment rate to peak, but almost eight years to return to its pre-recession level.

 “Young people want governments and educational institutions to make sure that no one is left behind or made worse off by COVID-19,” says Bainbridge.

“They want to know how governments plan to address unemployment and what financial supports and protections will be put in place to ensure young people and the wider community avoid increased disadvantage.”

 Commissioner Connolly says young people who have been working for less than 12 months are concerned that they are not eligible for the JobKeeper payment.  

“They might still rely on their parent’s income, but it just means that they really feel that loss of independence,” she says.

“They’re not going to be eligible to get anything.”  

Year 12 student Emma Bertozzi says mental health has become a big talking point among people her age.

“There’s some anxiety about what’s going to happen with this COVID-19 stuff – is it going to be resolved, is there going to be problems in the future?,” she says.

“You also don’t have that separate world of school and home and so it’s all kind of just mixed together.”  

Second-year university student Ryan von Einem says he feels “a little anxious” about returning to his part-time supermarket job after taking leave following an injury.  

“I’ve heard stories about people’s attitudes – customers – (which are) good and bad,” he says.

“I feel kind of bad that I just happened to be not able to work in at the time of the crisis, and everyone’s going through a lot of stuff.

“The team’s going through a lot of stuff. I almost feel kind of guilty.”

Connecting with friends, extended family and support services are important coping mechanisms for all of us, but Bainbridge says those relationships are particularly important for young people.

“They’re reporting a marked increase in feelings of isolation and anxiety as a result of the restrictions,” she says.

“It’s important for people to understand that home isn’t a safe place for all young people and we’re deeply concerned we’ll see an increase in family conflict and violence, and homophobia and transphobia against young people who have limited or no options for spending time away from home.

“Young people are also experiencing increased stress and anxiety about job losses and they’re worried about how they or their family will pay rent and utilities, and buy food, medications, and other necessities.”

It comes as mental health counselling service Lifeline experienced unprecedented demand in March, receiving 24,000 calls a week at the height of the crisis.

South Australian Council of Social Service CEO Ross Womersley says there is an assumption that young people are more able to adapt to and recover from crisis than older generations, but “the reality is the opposite”.

“Young people are experiencing as much, if not even more, dislocation sometimes than some of the rest of us and so it is important that we pay attention to their needs, their interests and indeed the support that they require in order to get through this process,” he says.

Source : Indaily


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