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How the coronavirus pandemic hurt young workers in New York

Young and enthusiastic, Harry Rosado has never had trouble finding a job.

Fresh out of high school, he was hired as a sales assistant in Midtown Manhattan at Journeys and then at Zumiez, two fashion stores popular with young buyers. He moved to Uncle Jack’s Meat House in Queens, where he earned up to $300 a week as a waiter.

Then Mr. Rosado, 23, was fired in March when the steakhouse closed due to the pandemic. He was recalled after the steakhouse reopened, but business was slow. In August, he was out of work again.

New York has been hardest hit by the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic than most other major US cities.

But no age group has seen worse than young workers. As of September, 19% of adults under 25 in the city had lost their jobs, compared to 14% of all workers, according to James Parrott, director of economic and fiscal policy at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School. .

Young adults have been particularly vulnerable as they were overrepresented in service industries that have been decimated by social distancing restrictions.

While workers under 25 made up just 10% of the city’s total workforce of 4.8 million before the pandemic, they held 15% of jobs in the hardest-hit service industries, including restaurants, retail stores, and arts, entertainment and recreation businesses. , Mr. Parrott said.

The consequences of job loss for new workers can resonate for yearsleading to lower wages, fewer job prospects, and financial hardship and instability, especially for those already burdened with college or credit card debtaccording to economists and youth employment experts.

“You could see the impact of this on the younger generation long after the fact,” said Jennifer Mishory, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a left-leaning policy research institute.

The employment struggles of young workers also have broader implications for the overall economy, said Stephanie Aaronson, vice president and director of economic studies at the Brookings Institution and author of a recent report about this question.

“It will take longer for young people to find productive employment, which obviously represents a financial loss for them and their families,” she said. “But on top of that, the economy will suffer. This hinders economic growth.

The national image reflects what is happening in New York.

Across the country, the overall unemployment rate in November was 6.7%, but it was 10.5% for 20 to 24 year olds. In contrast, the rate for those aged 25 to 54 was 6.0%.

Workers under 25 deposited slightly more a million complaints in October for regular state unemployment benefits – not including pandemic assistance – compared to nearly 80,000 for the same month last year.

Mr. Rosado has applied for dozens of jobs on Craigslist and He landed interviews with a Wendy’s restaurant and a self-storage warehouse. Still no job.

“For the most part, I wasn’t called back for anything,” said Mr. Rosado, who lived with relatives in Queens and was collecting unemployment benefits of $160 a week. “Everyone is fighting for the same positions.”

Finding work is likely to only become more difficult as the virus spreads across the country, leading to tighter restrictions on indoor restaurants and non-essential businesses that could lead to more layoffs and fewer job offers. use.

Seedco, a national social service organization, has raced to help more than 400 young adults find work in the New York, Memphis and Baltimore areas during the pandemic. Of them, 65 have been placed with essential businesses, including UPS, FedEx and Uber Eats.

“The rapid speed at which this economic struggle has unfolded is unprecedented,” said Keith Rasmussen, the executive director. His group’s placements for young adults have fallen by about two-thirds this year, largely because young workers have been pushed aside by a flood of older, more experienced job seekers.

State and city officials said they are helping young adults through existing employment programs and services, including providing businesses with a state hiring tax credit. disadvantaged young unemployed people. Plus, new courses are being developed to help people of all ages learn job skills online.

“We know the value of connecting young people to jobs, career readiness and other important life skills, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn,” said Mark Zustovich, gatekeeper. word of the city’s youth and community development department.

The pandemic job losses have particularly hit young workers who are black, Hispanic or don’t have a college degree — they have even higher unemployment rates than young workers as a whole, Ms. Aaronson said. report found. They are also more likely to struggle because their families do not have the resources to support them.

“The reality is that for young adults who were struggling to find jobs before the pandemic, the pandemic has put them even further behind,” said Gregory J. Morris, executive director of the Isaacs Centera social service provider in New York.

Sapphire Cornwall, 20, got her first job in 2018 as a sales associate at a branch of The Children’s Place in the Bronx. She lost it in March when the store closed during the pandemic and never reopened.

She initially collected $650 a week in after-tax unemployment benefits, more than she earned at her job, but that amount dropped to $125 a week after a $600 federal supplement ended in July. Since then, she’s used more than $1,600 in savings to cover rent and groceries.

Ms Cornwall applied for other jobs, including at Bed Bath & Beyond and Dollar Tree. “Right now they want people who know the business, they don’t want to train you,” she says. “When they look at your resume and see you don’t have much, that’s a problem.”

Young adults could often work around their lack of pre-pandemic experience by showing up in person and making a good impression on potential bosses.

But now, “you hardly have the ability to go up to employers and say, ‘Hey, I’m here,'” said Raymi De La Cruz, director of the workforce program for the young people of BronxWorksa social service agency that helped Mrs. Cornwall.

At the height of the pandemic, with the temporary federal supplement, some young adults were “applying for unemployment benefits because they were guaranteed more money in some cases than when they were working,” said Van Miles, director of development. workforce at union regulationsa social services agency in East Harlem.

In New York, they could collect up to $1,105 a week, including the $600 temporary federal supplement, nearly double what a minimum-wage worker earned.

Now, that is no longer the case. As their finances become more precarious, many young adults not only find a tougher job market, but also fewer options for in-person employment programs, support services, and training courses.

Some employment programs have pivoted to focus on work that has weathered the pandemic, such as for delivery drivers, security guards, construction workers and home health aides.

Yet many young adults have been locked out of these jobs because they don’t have a driver’s license or required professional certifications — and getting them isn’t easy with many driving schools and training courses cut or short. suspended during the pandemic.

“From March to now, almost everything is at a standstill, except for the bills,” said Kristina Coleman, director of a youth program at The children’s villagea social service agency serving young adults in New York City.

Things have gotten so bad that some social services and community groups that normally refer young people to jobs and internships elsewhere are hiring them instead.

the Red Hook Initiative, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit community organization, places young adults in paid internships with small businesses and social justice groups. But with few places welcoming new people, he now pays $15 an hour to work in the community, including handing out free food from his city farm and handing out face masks and hand sanitizers. .

Knowledge Westbrooks, 23, said the job kept him afloat after he was laid off in March from a warehouse in Brooklyn where he coordinated delivery routes. “I wasn’t able to pay for the food and everything, so I had to try to find another opportunity,” he said.

The Isaacs Center launched a culinary training program this year before the pandemic to prepare young adults to work in five-star kitchens. But with many restaurants closed or operating with limited meals during the pandemic, some of the aspiring chefs are now bringing their skills to the prepared food sections of Whole Foods.

For the first time, the center also hired many young workers for its own community kitchen, which has been expanded to feed the elderly and low-income families.

Mr. Rosado signed up for the culinary training program this fall after spotting an ad on Craigslist and recently started an internship for $15 an hour at a Harlem coffee shop.

He worries about job security in a restaurant industry decimated by the pandemic. But he said the risk was worth it to do something he loved.

“I love the idea of ​​serving someone and making sure they feel welcome and taken care of,” he said. “I feel like that’s my niche.”