COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the nation’s employment landscape, and young people are at particular risk. They’re often the first to be let go, the last to be hired, and major employers of young people are significantly impacted by the pandemic. The YES Project has been speaking with young people representing various stages of education and employment to learn firsthand about their job experiences during COVID-19 and their advice for how decision makers can support them at this unprecedented time.
Here are highlights from our conversation with Franswa N., age 26, from Hartford, Connecticut. Franswa works two jobs and is a student at Goodwin University, a mom to young twin boys, a caretaker to her mother, and a youth ambassador for Our Piece of the Pie, a nonprofit organization that helps youth succeed in education and employment. She aspires to go to law school and become an attorney. Below, Franswa discusses the toll the pandemic has taken on her work, school, and family life, the challenges of finding employment with a criminal record, and her advice to employers.
I was raised in Middletown, Connecticut. In high school, I was hanging out with friends and trying to be cool by doing not cool things. I ended up having some problems with the law, which affected my criminal record. I eventually moved from Middletown to New Britain because my mom and I couldn’t afford rent where we were, and that’s about the time I got pregnant with twin boys. By this time, I had dropped out of high school. I eventually got my diploma a couple years later through the National External Diploma Program, but unfortunately around that time, my mom got sick with leukemia. Before, she had been the one watching my kids while I worked, but with her being in the hospital, I wasn't able to work because I didn't have another babysitter.
Her cancer is now in remission, but I am still caring for her. I’m also working two jobs—I’m a Youth Ambassador at Our Piece of the Pie (OPP)* where I mentor young people with backgrounds like mine, and I’m working at a café that intentionally hires people with criminal records. I’m also in school at Goodwin University, studying criminal justice.
Taking classes at home is really difficult—there are a bunch of distractions. Due to COVID, I’m working during the daytime and taking classes online at night while taking care of my sons, acting as their teacher, and taking care of my mother. By the time I get out of work I have to clean the house, start dinner, get my kids ready to eat, give them a bath, and still try to get them to do an hour or two of schoolwork. It’s been a lot—they’re home most of the time, their sleep schedules are off, and they’re not learning as much as they were learning in school. And with one son who has a learning disability, it’s kind of complicated teaching both of them at the same time when it’s just me.
Once COVID hit, the café was closed for a while, so I wasn’t making money there. I filed for unemployment, but due to me working part-time at OPP, I wasn’t approved. So, I was making a lot less money and it was difficult to pay bills because of my mom’s cancer.
With school not being open and my mom having to go to New Haven for all her appointments, I sometimes have to call out of work so that I can stay home with my kids because I don’t have anybody to watch them. I also had to drop a class and just take two instead of three because it was too much to manage—it’s been a lot easier but now it’ll take me longer to graduate.
A lot of employers do not want to hire me due to my background. In fact, when I first withdrew from high school and had my kids, I decided to become a certified nurse’s assistant (CNA) because I felt like it would allow me to support my family. But after getting my CNA license, nobody would hire me because of my background.
Sometimes employers don’t know about my background before the interview—they look at my application, call me in for an interview, I do well in the interview, and they’re ready to hire me. I’ve even had employers give me a work schedule, but when the background check came through, they let me know that they couldn’t hire me due to the background.
Fortunately, my current jobs are really meant for people with my experience. Long term, I want to be a lawyer. I don’t want people with backgrounds like mine to think, ‘Oh, because I got one charge, I can't turn my life around.’ I’ve noticed firsthand a lot of problems with the justice system, and in working with OPP I’ve learned even more—I feel like I can make a change in Hartford as a lawyer.
Don’t judge a candidate because of their background—sit down and listen to them, talk to them. How was their life growing up? Maybe there’s a reason why they’ve done what they’ve done or why they have certain charges. Talk to them and get to know their perspective so you can understand if they really want to change or not. Always give somebody an opportunity because you never know what they can offer your business. You never know what they can bring.
* Our Piece of the Pie is part of the Compass Rose Collaborative, funded by the Department of Labor and managed by FHI 360. The Compass Rose Collaborative is 100% funded by the Department of Labor in the amount of $4.5 million. No other sources of funding support this project.