James Forsyth James Forsyth

The young are the most vulnerable to the Covid crash

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Coronavirus is deadlier for the old than the young. But for the young, it is economically devastating. A third of working 18- to 24-year-olds have lost work because of the pandemic. Between March and May, the number of those under 24 claiming universal credit doubled to almost half a million, and those who leave school or university this year can expect to earn less a decade from now than they otherwise would have done.

During lockdown the young have, to a remarkable extent, accepted their lives being put on hold to protect their elders. Fairness dictates that steps must now be taken to prevent them from bearing the brunt of the coming recession.

Without help, the young will be hit hard in the next few years. They are more likely to work in hospitality and retail, the sectors that will be last out of this recession. They will also suffer the most from a hiring freeze and are the biggest losers from working from home, missing out on the informal education that office life provides. Those about to enter the workforce face the prospect of higher unemployment than we saw in the 1980s.

The past decade has made the UK complacent about employment. Job growth beat every forecast throughout the 2010s — but productivity remained stubbornly low. In truth, these two things were linked. Many of the new jobs created were in low–productivity sectors, and lockdown and social distancing have forced many companies to work out how they can operate with fewer staff. The consequence will be that the recovery is better on productivity than the 2010s, but weaker on jobs, and that will be more difficult for society to handle. Unemployment has long-term scarring effects, meaning people are less likely to be in work for the rest of their lives.

‘We’re waiting for Waiting for Godot.’

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