From job losses to mental health, COVID-19 has hit N.L. youth particularly hard: report
Choices For Youth surveyed nearly 500 people between the ages of 16 and 29
A new report details how disruptive COVID-19 has been to youth across Newfoundland and Labrador, detailing widespread unemployment, struggles with online learning and pervasive mental health issues.
But Zarin Tasnim doesn't need a report to tell her that.
In the spring, the Memorial University student found herself out of the classroom, out of her two part-time jobs, one in retail and one at the school's library. Her internship, set for May, was also cancelled.
"Ever since I've arrived here, I have been working part-time jobs whenever I can, and that suddenly stopped," said Tasnim, a second-year engineering student originally from Bangladesh.
"It gave me a lot of uncertainty, you know, in life, whether I would be able to continue supporting myself through COVID."
She's not alone, according to the report, released Thursday by the St. John's-based non-profit organization Choices For Youth. CFY surveyed 486 people between the ages of 16 and 29 across the province, including Tasnim, for their COVID-19 experiences, and found 61 per cent of them were unemployed, with almost three-quarters of saying it was due to the pandemic.
What is really shocking about this is just the sheer amount of young people who are encountering struggles right now. - Jen Crowe
"The reality is, we know that young people are disproportionately employed through the services sector, and many of those services aren't there any more," said Jen Crowe, CFY's strategic initiatives co-ordinator and one of those who helped put the report together.
The report also takes a glimpse to a gloomy future: 77 per cent of its respondents feel the pandemic will affect their earnings in the next six months, and is shaping their future life choices. Crowe said young people worry the careers they have been saving and studying toward might not exist in the same way ever again.
"A lot of young people we talked to don't know what the future holds for them," she said.
Tasnim is now back at her retail job, and found a replacement work term for the summer, but said the months spent in isolation in the spring have had a huge impact on her overall finances.
"I do have worries that if we have a second wave, I can't afford to not work, again," she said.
Old issues, new numbers
Those worries and uncertainty have been on a lot of young people's minds, as 67 per cent of them said their mental health has taken a hit during the pandemic.
"I did have a handful of friends who called me and tell me that they're overwhelmed," said Tasnim, "and I would be the same way. We would just support each other."
Through her work, Crowe has seen and worked with youth facing such financial and mental issues, and knows they aren't themselves new. But what is new, she said, is the numbers.
"What is really shocking about this is just the sheer amount of young people who are encountering struggles right now," Crowe said.
Tasnim said she has always had anxiety over taking tests, but finds now, in the midst of her end-of-term exams, trying to complete them online hasn't made anything better.
"There are more factors that distract you from your exam, like roommates, noise, visiting people. So I just feel like there's this element of uncertainty, again," she said, worrying that with six courses to balance this upcoming semester, her grades could be impacted.
While Tasnim has the relief not having to worry about internet speeds in St, John's, Crowe said the pandemic has shown how unequal such access is across the province. She said she's heard from one student in southern Labrador who is supposed to be studying from home this upcoming semester, but doesn't have the internet connection to keep on even footing with others in her class.
Creating an equal future
Building better bandwidth across rural areas of the province is one of the report's 12 recommendations, as Crowe said the youth surveyed had lots of ideas to create a more equal future.
"Now, in a way, we know what we need to do," she said.
The recommendations are big asks, from improving access to affordable child care and affordable housing, as well as another area that has been the subject of countrywide interest.
"We heard a really strong recommendation from young people around supporting them through basic wages or basic income, as something that was a really high priority for them," said Crowe.
While some of that work lies in government hands, at her organization, Crowe said staff will be trying to figure out how to apply the report within their own social enterprises, such as their secondhand clothing store, and she hopes more employers do the same.
"My hope is that folks can take a look at this report and really consider what is it that the young people they're working with face," she said.