Young workers have been hit the hardest by rising unemployment during the Covid pandemic, with those under the age of 35 accounting for almost 80% of jobs lost in the past year.
Official figures show youth long-term unemployment has hit a five-year high, with more than 200,000 under 25s out of work for more than six months. Employment is also falling even as the number of people in work begins to rise for every other age group, reflecting the cumulative impact of lockdowns and young adults bearing the brunt of job cuts.
The Guardian spoke to three young people about the pressures they are under as they try to get a foothold on the jobs market during the worst public health emergency and economic downturn in living memory.
Alex, 24, Glasgow
After rejection from cybersecurity jobs and graduate schemes was followed by failure to land work as a checkout assistant or a hospital cleaner, Alex, a 24-year-old graduate from Glasgow, is worried.
“I’ve spent over half a year unemployed, to the point I’m desperate to get something,” said the international relations postgraduate, who asked to withhold his surname. On universal credit and having moved back in with his parents, he has been told by the Job Centre he is unlikely to find any employment in the near future while the Covid-19 pandemic continues.
“They’re trying to be realistic, sending out jobs I can apply for. But they’ve got a lot of people applying for every one of them. I don’t think they’re very hopeful I’ll get one.”
At first Alex searched for jobs related to his degree, with dreams of working for the UN. After six months unemployed he’s applying for anything he can find, still without success.
“It’s the first time in my life really where I’m out of education without planning on going back, and the first time it feels like I can’t get a job for some reason. Besides the elderly, the younger people are facing the biggest brunt of all this at the moment. That’s certainly the way I feel, having just left uni.”
Anisah Arif, 24, Bradford
Journalism jobs are thin on the ground in West Yorkshire. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, Anisah Arif says there are fewer opportunities still as employers freeze their recruitment programmes and work experience placements dry up.
“The stepping stones you need for the early stages of your career just aren’t there at the moment; it’s definitely not been good for younger people like me,” she said. The 24-year-old from Bradford graduated with a journalism degree in 2018 and has since started working at a bank, but is still pushing to catch a break in the media.
“Graduating in journalism doesn’t give you a wide range of jobs to apply for if you’re not from London. Newsrooms are white male-orientated, so being a person of colour also adds into the challenge.
“Since the pandemic the opportunities have either been cancelled, graduate schemes aren’t being run any more, so you don’t have the opportunity to gain the experience you need for a job for the future.”
Having completed work experience at her local paper and the Liverpool Echo while studying at university, she hopes the BBC and Channel 4 moving jobs to the north of England might help, but she worries the pandemic is narrowing her options. “It’s hard. I was looking at job advert yesterday; they want at least seven years’ experience. You can’t get the job without experience, but how do you get experience in the first place?”
Susanna, 25, London
For more than a year Susanna, a charity marketing executive from London, feared her job would be made redundant. Last month, that became a reality, leaving her without work for the first time early in her career. “I’ve never not had a job, I’ve always had positions lined up,” she said.
Susanna was among the last to join the charity she worked for before the pandemic struck, and was furloughed in April after it suffered a sharp collapse in income. After returning to work last year, her employer gradually started cutting jobs.
“Throughout the last couple of months I’ve been applying for things and have been successful in landing interviews, but I’m at that level where I’m slightly too experienced for a junior role, but lack experience for more senior positions, where it’s very competitive.”
Originally from North Yorkshire and with a degree from Cambridge University, Susanna is concerned about her next move. Living with her boyfriend and with enough savings to cover the rent for now, she says competition is high for jobs, meaning her next move on the career ladder might end up being sideways.
“It’s a bit demoralising. I’m a bit worried the next year is going to be a repeat of the last job I’ve had,” she said.