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The pandemic is taking a toll on young people

Imagine being 22 years old now. You might have just finished college, be working, or be juggling school, work, and family. Or perhaps you are unemployed or underemployed and struggling to make ends meet. Now imagine all those challenges with the unrelenting weight of the global COVID-19 pandemic as a daily backdrop.


To find out more about how young people are coping with the historic pandemic, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and partners of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth surveyed more than 12,000 18- to 29-year-olds from 112 countries earlier this year.

The pandemic’s effects on young people have been “systematic, deep and disproportionate,” the ILO report finds, and it has been particularly difficult for young women and youth in lower-income countries. Education was radically disrupted, with one in eight young people left without access to courses, teaching, or training.


For young workers, the COVID pandemic has been especially unsettling. One in six respondents who were employed before the pandemic stopped working entirely, with 18- to 24-year-olds hit especially hard. Even for young people with jobs, working hours fell, and two out of five reported earning less.

These dramatic changes, in addition to the stresses of the health crisis, have taken a toll on young people’s mental health, with high numbers of respondents reporting anxiety and depression. Despite all of this, the report finds that a high proportion of young people are turning the crisis into an opportunity for collective action by supporting their communities through volunteering and giving.


The report calls for “urgent, targeted, and smarter” investment in “decent jobs” for young people. It also highlights the need to protect human rights, improve employment and training programs (including online learning), strengthen social protection and unemployment benefits, and improve mental health support.

MELINDA WEIR is on the staff of Finance & Development.

Opinions expressed in articles and other materials are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect IMF policy.