Press Release

New National Data Show Toll of COVID-19, Discrimination on Youth Employment and Wellbeing

Two-thirds of young people say the pandemic has adversely affected their work life, with stark differences by race and gender

WASHINGTON – More than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, young people across the U.S. are struggling, according to survey results released today by America’s Promise Alliance. Many are financially strained, emotionally drained, and facing significant barriers to employment. These barriers are particularly acute among young people of color and women.

Among the findings from the nationally representative survey of 3,530 people age 16-24:

  • Nearly half (40.0%) of young people reported experiencing a sense of financial strain, with high levels of difficulty surviving financially, paying their bills, and affording basic healthcare costs.
  • More than two-thirds (67.8%) indicated that COVID-19 and the related economic recession have had some effect or a large effect on their work life (e.g., getting the job that they desire or achieving their career goals).
  • 70.1% report experiencing an elevated state of stress "about half the time" or more, and more than one in three young people (34.5%) reported feeling this way "most of the time" or "always."
  • Among youth who are unemployed and those marginally attached to the labor market, three in four (76%) reported that COVID-19 has made their job search more difficult, and nearly one in three (31%) reported having stopped their job search due to COVID-19.

Amid an uneven economic recovery and an ongoing national reckoning over race and systemic inequities, the survey report, The State of Youth Employment: Navigating the World of Work during COVID-19, provides crucial insights into young people’s experiences navigating the labor market and their overall wellbeing. Just as the pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color, the survey results illuminate unique challenges, barriers, and discrimination faced by Black, Latinx, and Asian young people:

  • Black and Latinx young people were significantly more likely to report that COVID-19 had adversely impacted their work situation (such as losing a job) than white or Asian young people.
  • Latinx youth reported 24% more barriers to finding a job or achieving their career goals compared to white youth, Black youth reported 20% more barriers, and Asian youth reported 19% more.
  • Approximately half or more Asian, Black, and Latinx youth reported experiencing or anticipating discrimination in the workplace because of one's race (e.g., "been treated differently"; "experienced negative comments"; "experienced discrimination").
  • Both Black and Latinx youth were 22% more likely than white youth to report gender-based discrimination, underscoring the potentially compounding effects of discrimination for young people of color in the labor market.

“The survey results show the devastating impact of the pandemic, ensuing economic recession, and ongoing racial inequities on young people and their efforts to find jobs and access secure career pathways,” said Mike O’Brien, CEO of America’s Promise Alliance. “Our nation is at a critical inflection point. In planning for economic recovery, decision-makers across the country have a historic opportunity to center young workers and job seekers, particularly those confronting the greatest barriers to opportunity.”

The study includes recommendations to address youth unemployment, mitigate the disparities that have widened over the past year, and seize the moment of change that the American Rescue and Jobs Plans offer. Recommendations for employers, youth-supporting professionals, and policymakers include leveraging existing infrastructure, such as summer youth employment programs and national service programs, to connect young people to career opportunities; dismantling workplace policies and practices, such as mandating specific educational requirements or asking about salary history during the hiring process, that have adverse impacts on women and people of color; enriching young people’s network of relationships to help them enter and advance within the workforce; and reimagining the world of work that young people step into by raising the minimum wage and overhauling federal poverty guidelines—two outdated measures that keep lower-income working people in poverty even when they are working full-time.

“Employers of all types and sizes can play a role in prioritizing opportunities for young people that pay fair wages, cultivate belonging, and provide not just a job, but a foothold to a meaningful career,” said State Farm AVP of Diversity and Inclusion Rasheed Merritt. “Working with young people and youth-serving organizations, we can create a more hopeful and prosperous future for this generation and those to come.”

Full survey results are available at The survey for this study was disseminated over a three-week period from late January through mid-February 2021. The study was conducted by the Center for Promise, the applied research institute of America’s Promise Alliance, on behalf of the organization’s YES Project, a national youth employment campaign. The research was generously supported through a grant from State Farm®.


The YES Project—Young, Employed, Successful—engages America’s Promise Alliance and its partners in unifying the nation to reach a major collective goal: every young person seeking a job can find a job.

America’s Promise Alliance is the driving force behind a nationwide movement to improve the lives and futures of America’s youth. Its work is anchored in the belief that every young person deserves to succeed, and every adult is responsible for making that happen. By bringing together hundreds of national nonprofits, businesses, community and civic leaders, educators, citizens, and young people, the Alliance does what no single organization can do on its own: catalyze action on a scale that reaches millions of young people.