Is the American dream possible for young adults amid COVID-19?

It’s no secret: the majority of  Americans are hurting right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has sounded one alarm after another, demanding that we finally acknowledge inequities in healthcare, education, housing, childcare, and employment, to name a few. While we’ve made great efforts to combat the effects of the pandemic, there are too many people in this country being left behind.

Young adults make up 40 percent of the current labor force, yet over 7 million people under 30 are unemployed as a result of the pandemic. Fifteen percent of those between 18 and 24 were already living in poverty as of 2019 — and that rate is higher for people of color. 

In previous stimulus bills, young people were left out. Congress ignored the fact that many young people work to support their families, all while gaining experience that will help them achieve their goals. Young people like Diana Escorcia, a Latina who graduated from college this May, are expected to help contribute to the household.

This spring, Diana’s paid internship was canceled. Not only that, but her mom also lost her income due to COVID-19. She cannot apply for unemployment insurance because self-employed people are not eligible under the state of Florida guidelines. Diana and her mom were about to leave their home and move in with family because they couldn’t afford the rent. However, thanks to Pay Our Interns’ Intern Relief Fund, they were able to pay rent and stay in their home. 

We cannot leave young people like Diana and her family behind. And that’s why the YWCA USA is joining with Pay Our Interns in calling on Congress to address the disproportionate levels of unemployment and poverty among young adults by appropriating funds in the next round of aid bills to expand work programs geared toward gaining experience in public service. 

If Congress does not take action, we will see a repeat of 2008. Millennials who graduated during that time saw one of the worst job markets in history and faced what economists see as a downward trajectory that impacted the entire economy. Until recently, many millennials were only beginning to catch up. If Congress continues to overlook the problems currently facing young adults, another generation of Americans will spend their working lives struggling to catch up.

I have long considered myself a product of the American Dream, which includes my start in public service, and I believe in its potential. But to continue to ignore the problems facing young adults at this moment would create another generation of Americans wondering whether that Dream still exists. 

What young people need now is the opportunity to work, and it will take the power of the federal government in partnership with nonprofits and private enterprises to create those opportunities. Foundations and private enterprises must come to the table and collectively work to help young people through these unprecedented times by building sustainable solutions for job creation so that young adults like Diana can contribute to her household and provide for her family. Ultimately, participating in developmental work programs will set up people like Diana for future success by allowing her to gain work experience, network, and land a full-time paid position.

Alejandra Y. Castillo, CEO of YWCA USA, the nation’s largest network of domestic and sexual violence service providers. 

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