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COVID-19 creating 'lockdown generation' as young workers take the biggest hit

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A man looks at signs of a closed store due to COVID-19 in Niles, Ill., Thursday, May 21, 2020.
A man looks at signs of a closed store due to COVID-19 in Niles, Ill., Thursday, May 21, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The COVID-19 pandemic is having a "devastating and disproportionate" impact on youth employment worldwide with more than one in six young people forced to stop working since the outbreak began, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has highlighted.

The triple shock inflicted on those under 25-year-old — loss of employment, disruption of education and training, and extra barriers to enter the job market — could lead to the emergence of a "lockdown generation", the UN agency warned in its latest report released on Wednesday.

According to the ILO, around one-fifth of young people worldwide — 267 million — were already not in employment, education or training before the onset of the health crisis while more than three-quarters of those in employment were in informal jobs.

Additionally, more than four in 10 young workers were employed in accommodation, food services, wholesale and retail trade — the four sectors that have been most disrupted by the crisis.

Women, who make up more than half of the workforce in accommodation and food services and over 40% of employees in other services activities including retail and real estate, have been hit "harder and faster than any other group".

The effect is even more acute for women with children "owning to widespread school closures and the lack of affordable childcare services".

The report notes therefore that "recent data point to a massive increase in the youth unemployment rate since February 2020".

In Canada, the unemployment rate for young men rose by 14.3 percentage points between February and April of this year and by 20.4 percentage points for young women. In the US, it shot up from 8.5% to 24% for young men and from 7.5% to 29.8% for young women.

Similar trends are observed in Australia, China, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, those who have managed to hold onto their jobs have, on average, seen their working hours cut by 23%, the ILO said.

As for those still in formal education or training, the pandemic has greater disruptions as well which "threaten to create a lifelong earnings penalty for young people who are forced to quit their studies", the report flagged.

With the global economy in a tailspin, young people risk suffering long-lasting and devastating effects of protracted unemployment — also known as "scarring effects".

"Empirical evidence shows that entering the labour market during a recession can negatively affect young people's labour market outcomes for a decade or longer," the ILO said.

The UN organisation is calling for urgent, large-scale policy responses to mitigate the long-term damage of the pandemic on young people's education and employment prospects.

"If we do not take significant and immediate action to improve the situation, the legacy of the virus could be with us for decades," ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said.

"If their talent and energy is side-lined by a lack of opportunity or skills it will damage all our futures and make it much more difficult to re-build a better, post-COVID economy," he warned.