While I think there is a deep-rooted “verdict” suggesting young people have perniciously affected the older generation during the pandemic, we must first understand why this has emerged. Is it because of reckless behavior? My argument: it’s aligned with a more compulsory injustice. This iniquity found solace in the Trump administration’s plan to once more impair young people. What was the administration’s solution to our faltering economy? GO BACK TO WORK.
Our topic today discusses, FIRST: the issue at hand; SECOND: the misconceptions born from this enigma; THIRD: what I feel the future holds. While we know COVID has disproportionately affected different age groups and demographics; and even states, I feel our country has gravely marginalized a specific group of people – and this will be significant for our future.
Undoubtedly, from the moment COVID-19 emerged in our country in either late 2019 or early 2020, our government has struggled recurrently to compromise on a slew of policies related to aid and funding. The “Cares Act,” which was passed in March of last year, helped millions who were suddenly unemployed and at risk of eviction. Since then, we have seen nothing but dysfunction about whether to provide more funding to support unemployed workers and those suffering during this ongoing crisis. I started to wonder: how many of these unemployed workers are part of my generation? More distinctively, I pondered, how many of my peers held jobs in the service industry and other fields where they were suddenly told they wouldn’t receive a paycheck?
Earlier this winter, I read a compelling piece in National Geographic, titled, “Millennials and Gen Z are spreading coronavirus – but not because of parties and bars.” The author, Rebecca Renner, writes about how it’s not acceptable to deem young people guilty for partying and ignoring safety guidelines. She argues; we also have to acknowledge they are incessantly at risk due to their obligation to work.
“I see a lot of criticism being aimed at young people, especially people in college,” says Hannah Smith, a 22-year-old masters student at Texas A&M University who is studying public health and has made the difficult choice to attend her classes in person this semester. “I think that’s unfair, especially when their university is welcoming them back with open arms.”
This increased risk doesn’t come only from the high-traffic nature of a job or school. Coronavirus risk is also strongly correlated with income, which influences our ability to social distance.
Before the pandemic hit, affluent Americans moved around their cities – and beyond – far more than working-class folks. But by April, those statistics switched. According to an extensive analysis of anonymized cell phone data, 25 percent more people in wealthy areas were staying home completely, while 10 percent more low-wage earners were traveling outside their usual environs.
“The pandemic has been emphasizing a uniquely American problem,” says Kimbrough. “Our social safety net has a lot of holes.”
I know several people who faced an instantaneous crisis last year when they lost their job or their hours, but were denied unemployment insurance and had to scramble to figure out how to pay the bills. What they did: found more work – even if it was gig work, which put them at more significant risk. I think this helped to precipitate a new mental health issue that revolved around the stress of needing to make money, avoid getting sick; then, outside of the workplace, the need to isolate.
While other countries were stipulating full lockdowns and subsidizing their citizens, Trump’s administration and the Republican supporters were preaching the return to restaurants, bars, and even large gatherings, like political rallies. For Millenials, this engendered our next problem: disinformation and indifference.
As more and more younger people were exposed to the virus during the summer of last year, and then later in the fall, it seems like the easy discourse for Republicans was to blame partying and the lack of following health guidelines. That must be why younger people are giving it to older folks. While there are certainly examples of flagrant disregard (spring break parties, Covid parties, general lack of mask-wearing, and the refusal to socially distance), young people are contracting the virus and spreading it because they are exposed to it.
In an article by Natasha Leonard in the Guardian, titled, “The Covid-19 generation divide between millennials and boomers ignores the real problem,” she lays out an important postulation:
“This should not be surprising: that capitalism depends on human life as exploitable labour is a feature, not a bug. The boomer experience of postwar wealth and full employment on a living wage was the exception to the rule, which is nonetheless touted as proof of capitalism’s ability to deliver a dignified life to workers. The pandemic and its attendant economic crisis are now exposing the horrifying stakes involved when life is reconfigured wholly in market terms.
In late May, White House adviser Kevin Hassett cheerfully told CNN, “Our human capital stock is ready to go back to work.” Everyone from 40-year-olds to teenagers were sold a promise that we were to accrue “human capital” as an investment on returns for our own futures. But that promise was a myth. The capital was never ours. As Harris told me, in response to Hassett’s comment, “That’s giving away the game right there, admitting that human capital is something for capitalists and states to control and exploit, not a ‘company of the self’ that each worker has, which is what they’ve been telling us it is for years.”
“Human capital stock” refers to the workers across generations who are being pushed back to work during a health crisis in order to produce more value for asset holders. It’s a dystopian scenario that offers up poor, older workers – especially workers of colour – as a blood sacrifice as readily as any millennial or younger slice of “human capital”.
To be sure: it does not need to be this way. American billionaires have grown $434bn richer since the beginning of the pandemic. There are more than enough resources to go around. But the exposure of capitalism’s brutal incompatibility with human and non-human flourishing is hardly new. It would be naive to presume that the highly visible unequal suffering caused by the pandemic will force a revaluation of values.”
Here’s the thing: this was the not case whatsoever. The Trump administration (and Republicans) assumed yet again they could bamboozle people. Of course, people had no choice. Either work or starve. I feel this also greatly justifies the case for socialism more and more. If I loosely define capitalism as being based on individual gains for profit, then why are we always making more exceptions for the wealthiest? I suppose the answer will always be: greed. I certainly understand this, and I have learned exceedingly throughout my life that greed will never just go away.
I like to call this revelation the “plutocratic norm,” where, in a perfect world, we could have witnessed large, wealthy companies working with the government to provide benefits and resources to the general workforce. Feasibly, that might have been the first step to provide more confidence and reassurance to a lot of these young people who were put into an arduous position. However, what have we learned during the pandemic? Most businesses in this country are small businesses that were placed into catastrophic positions. When this happened, the government was ill-prepared to provide large-scale support for these small businesses; therefore, most were required to push forward without PPE and other resources. The workers had to show up and try to just “tough it” out.
“This legacy is now passing into Gen Z. When the first wave of coronavirus layoffs came in March, Jade Jackson lost her job at a clothing store where she was working to cover her college expenses for the upcoming semester. Over the next few months, the 19-year-old struggled to find new employment.
“It started to become like a race against time,” says Jackson. Determined to continue her studies as a biomedical sciences major at Arizona State University, she kept applying for work. After more than three months of applications and unemployment denials, Jackson landed a job at a different apparel store at her local mall in Chicago. Even though the store took every precaution, from installing plexi-glass shields at counters to providing hand sanitizer for customers, the risk of exposure was always in the back of Jackson’s mind. What worried her more than her own safety was the chance that she might become an asymptomatic carrier and unknowingly infect her grandmother, with whom she lived.” (Renner, National Geograhic).
The COVID-19 pandemic will test both the Millennials and even Gen Z for decades to come. The panacea will manifest itself in an ominous circumstance: either these young folks rise and become stronger for what this pandemic has caused; or, we see a complete failure to progress triumphantly into our next phase. Our success, or failure, will ultimately be determined by the result of our deleterious mental health problem. If a large bracket of younger people are affected chaotically by what they have endured these past 12-plus months, how can we expect them to recover without help? Our mental health system has been drastically inundated for years, with many in the Federal government and Congress not willing to help improve the conditions for the professionals involved.
Still, I tend to sway to the side of optimism. I’m cognizant of several people who have remained stalwart through the pandemic; found creative ways to remind themselves things will steadily recover and have chosen to embrace a new way of living. I also feel as though countless Millennials have learned from their parents as well, who, let’s not forget, have struggled just as much. After all, we now know (in February of 2021), that it’s not as challenging to feel the psychological detriments of financial strain when you HAVE financial equity already built. As I stated in the beginning, so many of my peers are in a tough spot: student loan debt, lack of credit; and now, so many unemployed. As we make our way out of the pandemic with the vaccination campaign, we can only hope the next chapter will begin without difficulty. To be continued…
- Renner, Rebecca. “Millennials and Gen Z are spreading coronavirus – but not because of parties and bars.” National Geographic. September 17, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/09/millennials-generation-z-coronavirus-scapegoating-beach-parties-bars-inequality-cvd/#close. Accesssed February 16, 2021.
- Lennard, Natasha. “The Covid-19 generation divide between millennials and boomers ignores the real problem.” The Guardian. June 4, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/04/how-coronavirus-could-bridge-generational-divides-not-widen-them. Accessed February 16, 2021.