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—including the food service and hospitality industries—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 and their advice for how decision makers can support them at this unprecedented time.
Here are highlights from our conversation with K’asia E., age 20, from Baltimore, Maryland. K’asia is a student a Philander Smith College, majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurship. K’asia is a participant of the Urban Alliance program, an initiative that connects young people with employment opportunities and skills training.
A lot of us [college students] had internships lined up for the summer, and we fought really hard to find good internships in our fields. A lot of those opportunities were taken away due to COVID-19. The lack of jobs or losing your job depending on your profession and then trying to stretch money is tough. I come from a big family – I have three other siblings. When you have a bigger family, trying to stretch money with COVID taking jobs away is really difficult.
Also, living in a food desert means you have to travel far to get basic things, and you have to take public transportation, there’s the risk of getting sick, and that can really be hard for a lot of people, especially elders. We have to worry about our health, trying to stretch our income, and then trying to survive off of little to no money.
When I came home from school [once COVID hit], it was kind of frustrating because I already had my hopes up, looking forward to my internship and the benefits that come with it. With a lot of the jobs, if it’s not an essential job, it’s being cut. The market of looking for a job is short – everyone’s trying to apply for Walmart, or Wegman’s, or a grocery store. If it’s already packed or crowded, they’re not going to want to take any more people. Then I’m coming in a little later, trying to apply – there’s already been a lot of people who have been applying for the same jobs. [The pandemic] pushed me farther back because I’m coming home to Baltimore from Arkansas, where I go to school, and then trying to get in the market here. The pool of jobs is just small now, so trying to enter that pool is a little harder.
I’m going to school for entrepreneurship – I’m getting a business degree. I’m trying to find more jobs that are centered around my major if places like banks will take a chance on a college student. I’m looking for things I can do online. I could do a virtual job – that would be even better for me because I wouldn’t feel like I have to put my health at risk for a job.
My high school has been really helpful. They sent out a list of jobs, like an open job fair. Urban Alliance also helped – they reached out with a couple of different potential opportunities. My college organizations also gave me a list of different jobs to look into and tried to put me in touch with people who could get me directly to the job. That’s really helped.
[It would be helpful] if there were some kind of app where people could go and do a recording of who they are, like a video interview, and then they could post it where employers could find it. I think that would be more useful than everyone filling out a bunch of different applications and then nothing really comes through. That way, when you go and talk to [employers], it’s like they already know: “You are one of my picks. You would be possible.”
I also want employers to think about how they would want people to treat them if they were looking for work during a time like this. If it were you, you would want people to help you out with a little more care, especially at a time like this where a lot of things have happened without our control. It’s about being more sympathetic and more understanding that a lot of people are in a predicament where they’re vulnerable because they don’t know when the money will come in, what type of money they’ll have, or if they can provide and put a roof over their head. Even on hectic days or on days where you feel like you’re not having a good day, try to think about the bigger picture and how you can impact someone else’s life by being considerate.