The great disruptor: COVID-led recession deals another blow to youth

7 December 2020

Youth unemployment hit a 23-year high in 2020 and youth underemployment now at record levels – 1 in 3 young people unable to get enough work.

The COVID-led recession has dealt a severe blow to youth unemployment and will have a long-term impact on young Australians, according to a new report released today by social justice organisation, the Brotherhood of St. Laurence (BSL).

BSL’s December 2020 Youth Unemployment Monitor found young people continue to bear the brunt of job losses in industries most affected by lockdowns and social distancing - restaurants, bars, retail outlets, gyms, entertainment and tourism businesses.

Youth unemployment, which reached a 23-year high of 16.4% in June, remained disturbingly high at 15.6% in October, with 337,224 young people unable to find work.

Marginal jobs growth since lockdowns ended in most states has largely been in part-time work, leading young people into an increasingly part-time, casual and insecure workforce.

Youth underemployment, which was already emerging as a major challenge before the pandemic, reached a record high of 23.6% in April 2020, and stood at 17.9% in October’s seasonally adjusted employment figures.

“Our analysis shows that young people have been hit hard by this economic crisis and face immense challenges,” says BSL Executive Director, Conny Lenneberg.

“Youth unemployment was already stubbornly high before COVID; it never recovered from the GFC. Combined with underemployment, we now have one in three young people in the labour force either unable to get any work at all, or not enough hours to make ends meet.

“COVID will impact on young people for years to come, as we have seen that high youth unemployment persists for years after a recession,” Ms Lenneberg said.

“If young people are unable to find that first job, or if the only work they can get is short-term and not secure, then this is known to have long-term scarring effects.

“People entering the labour market during a recession can expect to earn less and have fewer opportunities for career progression, which can last over a lifetime,” she said.

The report also found that young women suffered higher initial job losses from the sudden closures of largely female-dominated industries such as hospitality, accommodation and retail, while men were more likely to be have their hours drastically cut. As the market recovered, unemployment among young women fell to 14%, but they were working less hours, while men faced higher unemployment.

Ms Lenneberg said the COVID recession had accelerated existing trends and urgent action was needed to address the scale and long-term impact on young people.

“Australia’s recovery must address underlying problems in the labour market to create an economy that works for young people. We need to help young people into work by creating decent and sustainable jobs and supporting them to keep them earning, learning, and progressing their careers,” she said.

BSL’s Youth Unemployment Monitor, which includes analysis from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and other data, has been tracking youth unemployment trends since 2014 and is a key part of BSL’s youth employment campaign .

The December 2020 analysis provides a snapshot of the impact of COVID on youth employment.

The report and other stories about the current employment challenges young people face today, can be accessed at BSL’s Youth Unemployment Monitor .

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