Not easy being young during COVID
Financial and mental health impacts are great
WE’VE KNOWN for as long as COVID-19 has been in our collective headspace that the illness is most threatening to older people. But when it comes to financial and mental health, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic fall most heavily on young people.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the MassINC Polling Group has surveyed Massachusetts residents on many elements of physical, mental, and economic well-being. The data clearly illustrate that the coronavirus crisis is one that piles impacts on vulnerable populations.
Groups hardest hit by the pandemic are disproportionately young — immigrants, frontline workers, people of color, and Gateway City residents. Add this to the fact that COVID also poses specific challenges to people just because of their phase of life, not because they fall into any of these groups. Young people are much more likely to be part-time and hourly workers, renters, and parents of young children, all of whom are facing unique hardship. All of this is often overlooked in conversations focusing on the virus itself, since young people tend to be at relatively lower risk of serious health impacts.
Economic impacts began right away. Between mid-March, when lockdowns began, and early April, a whopping 30 percent of Massachusetts residents under 30 reported losing a job they had before the pandemic started, compared to just 11 percent of those over age 60. These job difficulties were closely related to the kinds of jobs that were first to go in the early days of the pandemic and which have been slowest to return. As huge swaths of the economy moved to remote work in March and April, many fewer part-time and hourly workers were able to participate in remote work. Instead, they lost their jobs, or major portions of their paycheck. Young people are far more likely to fall into this category. That vastly disproportionate impact has continued to show up in our polling, even as some elements of the economy have recovered somewhat.
The overwhelming impacts fell on those least able to absorb them, with less (if any) accumulated wealth, and less career longevity. It has hurt their ability to make housing payments, which is stressful enough even with statewide protection from eviction or foreclosure in place. But that protection expired October 17, leaving many confused about what could happen next if they continue missing payments. With so many young people renting, a wave of evictions could drown many in new challenges. Our survey earlier in the summer found people under 30 are also more than four times more likely than people 60 and older to have missed a rent or mortgage payment.
All of these stressors have led to another challenge–mental health. As we head into winter with cases spiking, young people are again worse off. A full 50 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds in Massachusetts reported feeling sad or depressed more often than usual. That’s compared to 41 percdent of 30- to 59-year-olds and 26 percent of people 60 years old and up.It’s not hard to think this could be young people’s moment. Millennials’ and Gen Z-ers grew up communicating virtually and online. When lockdown began and leaving one’s house for nonessential trips became frowned upon if not impossible, young people relied on their mainstays — texting and video chatting with friends and loved ones — and got creative with technology — setting up Zoom parties, game nights, and more. Surely young people could outplay the isolation of quarantine and stave off the lockdown blues, or at least do better than older generations, right? As it turns out, they’re suffering even more.
Steve Koczela is the president and Libby Gormley is the research associate at the MassINC Polling Group.