Generation L: How COVID-19 affects young people’s jobs and what we can do about it

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders – from around the world and all parts of society – address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge. Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

To keep updated on all of the OECD's work supporting the fight against COVID-19, visit our Digital Content Hub.

OECD Tackling coronavirus (COVID‑19) Contributing to a global effort

Months now into a global pandemic, we cannot avoid the fact that the crisis has affected our societies in a holistic way. 

Our health has been the first target of the virus, but the consequences of measures to contain it have impacted our democracies and our economies. 

Over the past months, job losses have made the headlines with millions of people filing for unemployment, and there have been many debates on how our work habits have been affected.

The facts

Young people were hit particularly hard when the economy paused. One in three young people work in the most affected sectors: that is, wholesale, retail and accommodation and food in the EU. Youth unemployment increased four times more than the general unemployment rate in the EU in April 2020, and according to the International Labour Organization, 1 in 6 young people worldwide have stopped working since the start of the crisis.

Read the OECD Policy Response: Youth and COVID-19: Response, Recovery and Resilience

Read the OECD Policy Response: Youth and COVID-19: Response, Recovery and Resilience
Image: Shutterstock/Unai Huizi

Data also show that young people felt lonelier and sadder during the lockdown period. Uncertainty of job prospects and the absence of safety nets have only added to the fragile mental health of the younger generations. 

These alarming trends also built on an already precarious position in the labour market for young people. Indeed, paying the price of policies enacted after the 2008 global financial crisis, young people have been living with precarious contracts and often without quality jobs or proper remuneration. In 2016, almost 1 in 2 young people was in a temporary form of work and 13% did not even have a contract.

Strong measures will be needed to prevent the emergence of a “lockdown generation”.

The way to go

To avoid these numbers and issues becoming a reality for young people in the decades to come, public institutions must answer to the economic and social downturn with social investment and large-scale policies.

Learning from the lessons of 2008, policy responses cannot relax labour legislation and be led by the creation of “jobs at any cost”. Instead, quality jobs and social rights need to be the compass that guides the recovery.

Many employment policies nowadays often discriminate young people by virtue of their age. Equality and non-discrimination need to guide the re-launch of our economies, and it is high time that practices such as youth minimum wages are abolished.

Last but not least, let’s use this crisis to tackle precarious work. We must put in place comprehensive, inclusive and forward-looking employment policy frameworks and legislation to better regulate new forms of work as they arise. 

The Opportunity: Why civil society needs to define its own future by Wolfgang Jamann, Executive Director, International Civil Society Centre

The Opportunity: Why civil society needs to define its own future by Wolfgang Jamann, Executive Director, International Civil Society Centre

This crisis commands us to think beyond short term, and putting in place quick fixes where young people pay the price to restart our economy is not an option anymore. This crisis is an opportunity to shape and build an inclusive future of work.

The future of work is now

COVID-19 and its consequences come on top of mega trends that have already been affecting the world and the nature of work for decades now. Climate change, globalisation, demographic change and technological developments have already deeply altered our jobs and what they entail.

The future of work is not beyond control – and policy makers have the power to shape it.

As “building back better” is on everyone’s lips, let’s walk the talk and step away from a labour market that still relies on assumptions from the first industrial revolution over two centuries ago.

The future of work is not beyond control – and policy makers have the power to shape it. Let’s use this crisis to reinvent our working practices so that we improve well-being, ensure work-life balance and respect privacy. Let’s use this crisis to rethink the value of work so it creates a real sense of purpose: fighting inequality and protecting our planet.

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Read more – The European Youth Forum has been at the forefront of the fight for quality jobs and for a youth-inclusive future of work. Read our European Youth Blueprint for recovery and our publications on the future of work.

Related Topics

Tackling COVID-19 Future of Work Intergenerational Solidarity


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Go to the profile of François Balate

François Balate

Policy & Advocacy Director, European Youth Forum

François Balate is an expert in EU affairs and politics, working particularly in the fields of social justice, democracy, human rights and sustainability. He is currently the Policy & Advocacy Director of the European Youth Forum and a former visiting professor at Science Po Lille (Institut d’Etudes Politiques). He also was in the leadership of Civil Society Europe. He is a graduate from the College of Europe and the Universite Libre de Bruxelles, where he also gave various lectures.

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