Covid Generation: Europe’s Young in Despair as Pandemic Lingers

Written by | Wednesday, March 17th, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic risks having a “disproportionate and devastating” impact on children both in and outside of Europe and their future, according to a motion adopted on Thursday (11 March) by the European Parliament. The warning comes as EU authorizes the use of a fourth COVID-19 vaccine and it seeks to bring the world’s attention to the plight of up to 100 million of the most vulnerable children already living in poverty, homeless and in “precarious situations.” Overwhelmingly passed by the MEPs – the resolution states that more children than before are falling victim to violence, abuse and exploitation during the ongoing health crisis, and that their physical and emotional health is “drastically worsening.” Therefore, MEPs, through the resolution, urged the European Commission to immediately table a legislative proposal to establish a “European Child Guarantee”.
The European Parliament resolution was adopted at the backdrop of a debate at different levels how to stop Europe’s young and jobless from becoming a ‘lost generation’. As Europe’s economy shrinks following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic, youth unemployment is on the rise, with as many as 3.1 million young people aged 15-24 across all EU member states currently unable to find a job. But the number of NEETS (not in education, employment, or training) aged 15-29, which includes those not actively looking for work, is estimated to be as high as 9.6 million. EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, says the EU executive is determined to prevent the same impact on young people that followed the financial crisis some ten years ago. “We are just coming out of a period where we had a lost generation due to the financial and then an economic crisis” he says, adding “We have to prevent the new lost generation.”
The pandemic has exacerbated youth unemployment problems in Europe. There are fewer work opportunities and young people are competing with unemployed people with more experience. To prevent a whole generation from being left behind, the Commission has adopted the Youth Employment Support Programme with an investment of at least 22 billion euros over the next seven years, designed to get young people into work through vocational training and apprenticeships. But some think it is not enough. Guntram Wolff, an economist and director of the Bruegel think-tank, says that “you clearly also need national support for the young generation. The sad truth is youth unemployment doesn’t go down so quickly”. Wolff compares the pandemic to the last financial crisis where it took between 5 to 10 years to get back to the 2009 levels of youth unemployment. For him, the issue of how “youth is affected by the pandemic is something that needs to be on top of policy makers’ minds”.
“It is hard to be 20 in 2020,” French President Emmanuel Macron famously said last year, referring to the devastating impacts of the pandemic on the young generation. “Being 21 in 2021 means being lonely and hungry,” Belgian students chanted as they recently took to the streets of Brussels – confirming that Macron’s statement still holds true this year. With most universities across Europe remaining closed, while student jobs have become a thing of the past, students across the continent are feeling the impact, not only on their education and daily lives but also on their socio-economic status and mental health. With three-quarters of students in Europe having had their school or university completely closed during the pandemic, and with education now happening almost exclusively online, students fear the quality of education is diminishing due to less face-to-face time with teachers. Concerns over their education, coupled with isolation, economic hardship and uncertainty over their future have taken a heavy toll on young people’s mental health. “Young adults (aged 18 to 29) experience higher level of distress compared to other age groups since the onset of the pandemic,” according to a recent OECD report.

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