The lost generation of Americans face uncertain future in the crisis

The lost generation of Americans face uncertain future in the crisis
© Getty Images

Matt Amedeo, a graduating senior from Boston College, did everything right. He studied hard and had a strong grade point average. He was a Division One student athlete. He worked various jobs on campus. After interning for a technology company last year, he received a strong job offer. All his ambitions and plans for the future were coming together. Then the coronavirus struck, and his world turned upside down.

“I had my life set up for my dream and my career. But then the pandemic threw a wrench into everything,” he told me in a recent conversation. He turned frantic. “I needed to find myself a secure future. I was applying for jobs every single day. It came to the point where I was doing two or three interviews a day. But everything was frozen.” What was particularly tough was being told that he was competing with thousands of laid off workers with more experience. “That was emotionally draining,” he said.

The media has labeled the Class of 2020 as the Lost Generation. They lost their last college semesters, their graduations, their internships, and their job offers. Three million of them are now entering a spiraling market. The unemployment rate for recent college graduates is above 17 percent. But with nearly 40 million Americans out of work and most trapped at home, some economists think the real rate is significantly much higher.

ADVERTISEMENT

Past generations had been defined by broad shared characteristics and environments. We had the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials. The question is whether the Class of 2020 will be defined by a microbe. The statistics, as much as they can be compiled for this early stage, are worrisome. Economists at the Becker Friedman Institute at University of Chicago estimate that there are just three new hires for every 10 layoffs caused by the coronavirus. Their model predicts over 40 percent of the layoffs caused by the pandemic will result in permanent job loss.

This will be notably difficult on those now entering the workforce. Nearly 70 percent of college students graduate with loans averaging $30,000, meaning a monthly payment of more than $300, before their other bills. Internships, the standard opportunities for networking and training, are shrinking. The National Association of Colleges and Employers saw that 20 percent of companies have suspended summer internships.

Glass Door reported a decline of nearly 40 percent across all industries. Zip Recruiter reported that the overall number of job postings are down nearly 50 percent for the last three months, and entry level job postings have plunged more than 75 percent. Moreover, the industries populated mostly by young adults have been hammered the most. A survey by Pew Research Center found that young workers are far more likely than older workers to say that the pandemic has damaged their finances.

But behind these statistics are the lives of our young people. The story of Matt Amodeo is one of resilience. After two months of scrambling, he has received an offer from a software company in Boston. Not everyone is as fortunate. The usual backup jobs in the gig economy, service sector, and hospitality industry have been hardest hit by the coronavirus.

It will likely take decades of studies to analyze the impact on the Class of 2020. But we know previous emerging generations weathered the storms. Think of the college graduates during the Great Depression and the ones who placed their careers on hold to go fight our wars. They learned thrift, sacrifice, and entrepreneurship. But they also knew that the government was behind them taking the bold action that is needed today.

Meanwhile, Matt Amedeo and the Class of 2020 face uncertainty. He told me that the best advice he had for his peers is to “understand that you are going to go through challenges, but you cannot give up, and it will pay off if you keep working hard.” Indeed, this is an iconic American lesson during a time in our great history when we are all learning new things.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and was the chairman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.