‘I’m just looking for whatever I can get’

A job seeker looks at a job listing board at the East Bay Career Center February 2, 2006 in Oakland, California
A job seeker looks at a job listing board at the East Bay Career Center February 2, 2006 in Oakland, California

Young people are disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of coronavirus, several reports have found.

The UN has cautioned that the high rate of unemployment among young adults could mean “a lot of young people are going to be left behind”.

In the US, about a quarter of people between 16-25 were unemployed in May – which was about double the unemployment rate of other age groups.

It’s a myth that all young adults are supported by their parents, or only work part time. According to Statistics Canada, of the roughly 500,000 people between the ages of 15-24 who lost their jobs in April, about half were working full-time.

Young women and minorities are particularly vulnerable, according to a report by the Brookings Institution.

The BBC spoke with four young adults who are looking for work – this is what they say it’s like to be in your 20s and unemployed during the pandemic.

Name: Ross Mortimer

Age: 26

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Previous occupation: Opera singer, server

What are you doing now? I’ve started babysitting. I go over in the morning four times a week. I’m trying to keep up with music as well, I had to rent a keyboard so I could practise in the house.

I’m just trying to enjoy the summer. With music there’s probably nothing that will make money until January, and I just have to accept that.

How are you getting by? Before the pandemic, I was making at least twice as much money a month but my income varied. Now I know exactly how much money I’m going to have a month because I receive the government coronavirus stipend, and I can budget. I’m really afraid for September though, when my student loans will start up again (they were paused because of coronavirus).

How’s the job search going? There’s no guarantee of any work next year at the Canadian Opera Company (COC). And they cancelled the fall – two out of six shows that season – with the possibility of the whole next season not happening. I’m kind of nervous to go back to restaurants right now because I think I’m not going to be able to find a job until they open inside, and then it’s working inside with lots of exposure to people.

What are your fears for the future? My main goal is music. So the restaurant, while I’m sad I’ve lost out of that income stream, I’m not overly concerned. But with music, that industry could be permanently affected. My biggest fear is probably arts organisations shutting down permanently. I just worry that culture in Canada is going to be not supported.

I literally just graduated from my master’s a year ago. I was getting jobs – I got the chorus job (at the COC) and I spent last summer in Italy singing. Now I’m doing nothing.

How does your age affect your situation? There’s so much less job security, but because I’ve basically grown up in that I’m not surprised. I’m used to having to look for odd jobs like babysitting, or going to paint somebody’s wall. It doesn’t feel totally crazy. I’ve never had a full time job with benefits available to me.

Name: Zainab Mehdi

Age: 22

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Previous occupation: Recent graduate from McGill University with a BA in Psychology

What were you planning to do this summer? This summer my plan was to stay in Montreal and research for a bit, because I was working for a behavioural neuroscience lab and we were working on a paper that was supposed to be sent for publishing in the next few months. McGill shut down on 13 March and the labs haven’t really opened since.

How are you getting by? I have been receiving the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) since May. It is only given for 16 weeks so my final month would be August.

How have your plans changed? My lease was going to finish so I couldn’t really stay in Montreal anymore. My family is in Pakistan so I’m staying with my friend in Toronto in her family home.

I’ve switched over to look for more jobs in the business sector, under project management or market research. Academic research wasn’t really an option, in the subject I was interested in, because it wasn’t really essential.

How is your job search going? I wouldn’t say it’s going well. The roles I’m looking for are entry level, there aren’t many roles available and even when I do apply to applications they usually just say ‘thanks for applying, but we’re not going to proceed any further’. I’ve been trying to fill my time with learning some hard skills. I’ve been taking a course, and I’ve been interning for a construction company in project management, but it’s part time.

How has it been emotionally? I had to get used to the uncertainty. Any short-term goal or long-term goal just went out the window. So there was a lot of anxiety and stress there. There was a whole new world I didn’t even understand that I was going into, and nobody else even understood it. I had to get used to the fact that I shouldn’t have expectations anymore.

When I did eventually get through that, it became easier. I tried making the most of the small things I was doing and recognising that I am doing a lot. It’s not comparable to the pace I was doing before, but I can’t really compare because it’s not the same world. At the same time that you’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty, you’re still receiving news about a lot of loss. People are dying, there’s so much grief.

Name: Maxime Barret

Age: 24

Location: Washington, DC

Previous occupation: Stationary engineer, specialising in maintaining and repairing boilers and HVAC equipment, at a large hotel

What are you doing now? I’m still currently employed but we got notice that the hotel may close as of 24 August. We were told when this whole thing started, we would be cut down to 32 hours. Then we were told the hotel would be closing down, and there would be a skeleton crew running the hotel. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that skeleton crew. But in June, we were told the hotel is closing and we all had to find new jobs. Now I don’t know whether I should be looking for another job or not.

How was it getting that news? I’ve been in that job for five years. It’s the kind of job everyone puts their heart and soul into. Everyone felt like family there. It just kind of hurts getting a notice saying you don’t have a job anymore. When I did trade school, I did an apprenticeship at that hotel. It was a four-year apprenticeship where you went to school at night and you learn on the job. That was really where I cut my teeth and learned the trade, which made it especially hard to leave it.

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How’s your job search going? The job market is definitely not great. The hotel chain has a hiring freeze so it’s hard finding a job moving from one hotel to the next, which means I lose all my benefits.

I’ve applied to at least 30 jobs. I’ve probably had about six interviews, and I haven’t heard back from many of them. It’s been pretty tough. Before I was trying to apply for something that looked like a better job to go to, but now I’m just looking for whatever I can take. Running out of health insurance in a pandemic is not what you want to do.

I am in a union – the union has really great insurance, but you have to find a job within the same union. But even the union gave is the advice of just take whatever you can get right now.

How does your age affect your situation? It’s good in some ways because in the blue-collar trades there’s not a lot of young people. But in another sense, it’s hard when you have everyone who’s 20 years my senior with a lot more experience than me. Or managers who a lot of times look down on younger years, thinking if you don’t have 30 years in the trade you don’t know anything.

Name: Katherine Fiallos

Age: 22

Location: Montreal, Quebec

Previous occupation: Recent graduate from McGill University with a BS in Microbiology and Immunology

How’s your job search going? I got an internship in Montreal just before the pandemic hit in global health, but it’s just for this summer. For the long-term, I’m mostly looking for jobs in San Francisco, where I’m from, and Canada, where I went to school.

I’ve applied to about 120-150 jobs online. About seven jobs postings were cancelled, which means they’re no longer hiring, and I’ve gotten two interviews so far. The rest have just not gotten back to me.

San Francisco is a hub of a lot of jobs and opportunities. You’re used to people telling you to “come to San Francisco, there’s all these tech and bio-tech companies” but going through the job-hunting process at this time, you can really feel the change in the economy.

What does that feel like? It’s frustrating. Once you start to go through months without hearing responses, you kind of feel like you’re just not good enough. Even after all the efforts you’ve done, like getting internships and going through the four years of gruelling academic work, you just kind of feel like it’s a waste. You have to tell yourself that it’s not really you, it’s part of the process – but it can really get to you.

How are you getting by? I’m getting by with the money that my parents generously gave me to get through my last year of university and the summer while I do my internship in Montreal. I did get grant money for my summer research project which would be barely enough to pay for my rent and living expenses. Being honest, if my parents wouldn’t have helped me out financially, I would probably be more stressed about my finances and about just living in general without a job.

How has the pandemic changed your goals? The pandemic reminded me of the importance of public health. It was something I had considered briefly, but after the pandemic happened, I realised it’s something really important and something I would want to get into.

How does your age affect your situation? I never looked for a job before a pandemic, so it’s hard for me to compare. In a way it is an advantage because young people are more sought out. If you’re a young person with a bit of experience then it’s probably more of an advantage, as opposed to a young person that has just graduated and needs to be trained, which is something companies are not always willing to do.

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