When Ananay Arora look from his balcony, he doesn’t see much these days. From his skyscraper, which he shared with three roommates before one of them returned to Taiwan a few weeks ago, he has a view of the Arizona State University campus, where Arora is currently a second year student specializing in computer science. It’s usually full of life, but like most colleges across the country, ASU canceled the courses in person in mid-March. “Everyone went home. Nothing is happening, “he told me. “It’s a little depressing. “
Like many young people awaiting the coronavirus pandemic, Arora envisions its future, which includes a prestigious internship at Apple which is expected to start in May. That’s why he stayed in his off-campus apartment instead of going back to India to live with his parents. “If my internship takes place and there is a travel ban, I would not be able to return,” he said. It’s not just a summer job: in the tech industry, being a good intern is by far the best way to get a coveted job offer after graduation. ” Obtain a [internship] maintenance is difficult, “said Arora. “If my internship is completely canceled, I don’t know if a company will interview me again. “
For healthy young people like Arora – who seem much less likely to have serious complications with COVID-19 than their older counterparts – to live in their forties for several months and the deep economic recession likely to ensue will have consequences that their own, most of which, for the moment, unknowable. It is difficult to imagine the future of this cohort in detail, beyond the fact that their life will be, at least in some respects, profoundly different from what it could have been. While writing about how the pandemic might end, my colleague Ed Yong postulated that babies born in the post-coronavirus era, who will never know life before the lasting changes to come, could be called Generation C .
But Generation C includes more than babies. Children, students and those in their first job after graduation are also particularly vulnerable to short-term disasters. Recent history has taught us that people in this group may find their careers derailed, their finances shattered and their social lives upset. Predicting the future is an idiotic race even when the world cannot resist what seems to be a decisive calamity, but in the catastrophes of the past there are clues that can begin to answer a question vital to the lives of millions of Americans: What will become of Generation C?
Once people are left in the world to rejoin their lives, the pandemic will continue to harm them for years. “Epidemics are really bad for economies,” said Elena Conis, a medical and public health historian at UC Berkeley, laughing slightly at the understatement. “We are going to see a bunch of university graduates and people finishing graduate programs this summer who are going to be really hard pressed to find work.” If you’re willing to risk your life cleaning floors in hospitals or picking up abandoned carts in grocery store parking lots, a meager paycheck is definitely in your future.
For Americans who cannot do this job or who are not desperate enough to try it, little relief comes, compared to what other wealthy nations do for their people. In Denmark, the government is paying up to 90% of employee wages to keep businesses afloat and ensure people are employed when the pandemic ends. In the UK, the government will cover up to 80% of workers’ wages. In the United States, one-time emergency checks of up to $ 1,200 per person will arrive in the coming months for people who had certain tax and income status in previous years, as well as expanded unemployment insurance for those who have lost their jobs. But only if you can successfully navigate the overflowing Byzantine systems required to subscribe to unemployment benefits. No one seems to know how the protections for concert workers are supposed to work or how small business owners should get the loans they were promised. In the meantime, the rent is still due.
These economic conditions are dangerous for almost all Americans, but seniors are more likely to have working lives and stable finances to help cushion the blow. People who are just starting now and those who will begin their adult lives in the years following the pandemic will be asked to walk the financial tightrope with no practice and, for the most part, no safety net. Fewer of them will be able to turn to their parents or other family members for important help: even in the periods of relative boom in recent years, 40% of Americans did not have the money in hand to deal with emergency expenses of $ 400. With financial losses and medical debt, millions of American families will accumulate during the pandemic, even this modest flexibility will likely be lost to many.
Because American life has changed so much in the past two generations, as Conis notes, it is difficult to make careful comparisons between what is happening now and how polio or the Spanish flu have affected workers in the country. More of the US workforce has a college education than in the past. The types of work that Americans do have moved away from manufacturing and physical production to the service and digital industries. Unions have been ransacked and workplace protections have been canceled, exposing individuals to risks they might not have had to worry about a generation ago when it would have been more difficult, for example. for example, for a business to convert a full-time worker to an “independent contractor” to avoid providing health care or paid leave. Resources are more concentrated among a small fraction of the ultra-rich than they have been for generations. “There are aspects of history that repeat themselves, but what is more true is that each epidemic takes place in its own context,” Conis explained to me. “It is a unique viral agent and a unique social and cultural context, as well as an economic context.”
To assess what awaits job seekers, it might be more useful to look at a different and more recent type of disaster: the financial collapse of 2008. More than a decade later, its effects are widely recognized as having been catastrophic for the financial future of those in their teens and twenties when it hit. Not only have the jobs dried up, but federal relief funds have mainly gone to large employers such as banks and insurance companies rather than to the workers themselves. Nearly 10 million people lost their homes, and investors chose cheap foreclosures to return them to wealthier buyers or turn them into rentals, which helped rising house prices far outpace growth American wages. Millennials, many of whom have spent years writhing in the wind when, under better circumstances, they would have laid the professional and social foundations for a stable life, now have less money in savings than previous generations in the same age. Relatively few of them bought a house, got married or had children.
Just as the country’s housing stock passed into the hands of fewer people during the Great Recession, small and medium-sized businesses could face a similar fate after the pandemic, which could be a nightmare for the country’s workforce. Local pharmacies, mom-and-pop restaurants and other small businesses have struggled to stay open for years, and now many of them may disappear, leaving people with little choice but to get their lunches and prescriptions from giant companies. Amazon’s large logistics network and labor pool have already given the company a definite advantage over small or regional retailers. With many local businesses closed or considered to be potential carriers of disease, pandemic conditions have already channeled more money to Amazon and its large-scale competitors, including Walmart and Costco.
American restaurants, which employ millions of people, have been devastated by quarantine restrictions, but national chains such as Papa John’s and Little Caesars run television commercials touting the deadly temperatures of their commercial oven viruses, and some among them intend to hire thousands of workers to meet increased demand. Private equity giant Bain Capital plans to swallow desirable companies weakened by the pandemic. The effect could be rapid capital consolidation, and the fewer firms that control the economy, the worse the economy is generally for workers and consumers. Less competition means lower wages, higher prices and conglomerates with sufficient political influence to avoid regulation that could force them to improve wages, worker security or job security.
This result is not acquired in advance. America is still in the early days of responding to the crisis and can still avoid some of the mistakes the country made during the Great Recession. Unfortunately, those in power do not seem to have the will to help workers or small businesses. Even New York City, which relies heavily on hotels, bars, restaurants and tourists to grow its local economy, has provided few resources to keep these businesses afloat and their employees paid until people can meet again for a happy hour or queue up to attend Comic Con.
Wfor an economic recession success and few job opportunities exist, one of the most reliable post-disaster models in modern America is beginning to emerge: people go to school, whether to learn a trade or get a doctorate. It can be tempting to hope that education will solve economic problems and that people will simply acquire enough skills to get better jobs and make more money. But as with almost all problems, higher education is not the answer to everything the coronavirus could do for your future.
Despite this, Reggie Ferreira, professor of social work and director of Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy, told me that he expected an “undeniable increase” in the number of people seeking education after the quarantine, taking advantage of the availability of loans to acquire expertise that could better position them to build a stable life. Millennials did the same in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, taking out record loans to keep up with soaring costs, such as law school. They could not have known at the time, but these decisions have since increased their economic pressure, while not significantly improving professional results.
But this increase in education for young Americans is likely to be a year or two into the future, once he is sure to risk himself again in the classrooms; much of this lawsuit is currently pending. Ferreira said that Tulane’s admissions for next year are down, part of the pressure being felt in higher education due to the coronavirus. Many more first-year students who plan to take a “gap year” before starting college than is the case in the United States, according to a survey last month which also found that up to 80 % of high school students did not feel confident ‘will be able to enroll in their first choice school. Private universities can suddenly be too expensive, and frequent air travel to distant colleges may seem much more risky. The massive delays will affect things like budgets and school admissions for years, but in ways that are difficult to predict. As historian Conis explains, there is no precedent for a disaster of this magnitude that interrupts life in today’s educational and professional structures in the United States.
Ananay Arora, trapped in his apartment in Arizona State, can take classes and work at campus work from home, but says everyone he knows is worried about how their grades will suffer, including understood him. It turns out that it is difficult to focus on school work during a slow global disaster. Many types of courses do not work particularly well via video chat, such as chemistry and ecology, which in normal times often require students to participate in laboratory work or to go out into the natural world. Some of Arora’s professional study responsibilities involve computer hardware that he simply cannot access at this time. “Unless we find something, I don’t think we can keep working like this or live like this for a long time,” he told me. “I just hope the recruiters understand the situation and waste our time, but I’m not sure they will. “
The future toll for children in the early stages of education, who are also part of Generation C, may also be important. The value of school is not just reading textbooks and doing homework, but learning to be a person: making friends and playing with classmates, celebrating victories in playgrounds. and learn to accept disappointment, develop the first favorites and know the first sorrows. For children whose family life is unstable, going to school also offers the affection and support of trusted people and friends, as well as hot meals or a break from abuse. A Zoom video call with 20 6-year-olds may sound cute, but research has shown that even in situations where distance education is well planned and well funded, it does not produce nearly the same results as teaching in person. Now, since the systems were put in place on the fly, parents must both work and supervise lessons, and many children are deprived of access to the Internet or home computers, the results are likely to be much worse.
“People who have a resource base and finances and so on, they are going to be much easier than families who do not even have a computer so that their children can go to school”, says Steven Taylor, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia and the author of The psychology of pandemics. Disasters, he told me, tend to illuminate and amplify existing disadvantages that are more easily overlooked by people outside the affected communities in everyday life.
Disasters also make it clear when the disadvantages – polluted neighborhoods, scarce local supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables, risky jobs – have accumulated over a lifetime, leaving some people far more vulnerable to disasters than others. In Michigan, the victims of COVID-19 are disproportionately black. In Chicago, black residents die from the disease at a rate almost six times that of their white counterparts. In New York, the hardest hit neighborhoods are where the poor and working, many of whom are immigrants, live in greater numbers. Children in these communities are already finding it more difficult to access quality education and enter university. Their future prospects look bleaker, now that they face technical and social barriers and the trauma of seeing family and friends suffering and dying during a pandemic. Many people who found themselves quarantined from SARS in the early 2000s, Taylor noted, had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder upon release. Children who survived Hurricane Katrina experienced rates of PTSD similar to those of veterans.
If disasters from the past have something to teach us about the future, that in times of great despair, people understand what can change. For this to translate into real change, it is essential that reactions to the new world we live in be codified in politics. Signs of post-pandemic political change lie in the types of political unrest that were already occurring before the virus. “Things that had already received some support are more likely to germinate, because these ideas had already circulated, and there may already be ideas of policies or programs that have been developed and that were waiting behind the scenes or looking for traction ”, Caela O“ Connell, environmental anthropologist at the University of North Carolina, explains.
This is where young people could finally be ready to take control. The 2008 financial crisis appears to have pushed many millennials to the left, as its effects have dashed their hopes for a stable and prosperous future they had just created. When house prices skyrocketed, wages stagnated and access to basic health care became scarce, many young people looked at the wealthiest nation in the world and wondered who enjoyed all the benefits. riches. Policies such as Medicare for All, Debt Cancellation, Environmental Protection, Wealth Taxes, Criminal Justice Reform, Employment Programs and Other Enlargements Social safety nets have become rallying cries for young people who live American life like a rigged game. For current high school and college students, who were already largely supportive of these ideas, the rapid and brutal explanation of the pandemic of how job-based health care and loose labor laws have long harmed to workers could lead to its own formative disaster.
“It is possible, especially with whom you call Generation C, that their experience of the pandemic in a deeply fragmented political context could lead to much-needed revolutionary change,” Monica Schoch-Spana, medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told me. She notes in particular a potential change in the electoral guard. The seeds of this change may have already been sown in the 2018 midterm elections, when young voters came out in particularly large numbers and helped elect a group of younger and more progressive candidates at the local level. and national.
Young people “are not grappling with the images and rhetoric of the Cold War. It doesn’t have the same power over our imaginations, “said Schoch-Spana. This does not mean that young people are in favor of Soviet authoritarianism. It just means that a subset of young voters think some American conservatives have been wolfing fun, mocking everything from public libraries to free doctor visits like creeping socialism until the word is lost. part of his power to scare.
If broad youth support for leftist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is any indication, the one-two punch of the Great Recession and the coronavirus pandemic – if mismanaged by those in power – might be enough to create a future America with free health care, a reformed justice system and better labor protections for workers. But the winds of change rarely bring down debris of a single type. The Great Recession opened the minds of large swaths of young Americans to leftist social programs, but its effects are also at least partially responsible for the Tea Party and the Trump presidency. The chaos of a pandemic opens the door to a stronger social safety net, but also to increased authoritarianism.
Beyond politics and policies, the structures that young people have built for themselves to endure the pandemic could also change their lives afterwards. Young Americans responded to the disaster with a wave of volunteerism, including the Arora internship clearinghouse and self-help groups across the country that deliver groceries to those who need it. The impulse to help in times of crisis is a hallmark of community resilience, and it is probably the first opportunity that many people in Generation C have had to dedicate so much time to serving others. Learning first-hand the value of sharing resources and taking care of your neighbors could help the next generation of adults reverse some of the loneliness and alienation trends that have quietly devastated millions of people in recent decades.
As strong as people’s reactions are in the midst of a crisis, however, people tend to leave the traumatic lessons of a disaster behind as quickly as they can. “Amnesia sets in until the next crisis,” said Schoch-Spana. “It may be different; it may be big enough and disruptive enough to change what we imagine it takes to be safe in the world, so I don’t know. Who knows? We have to go to the other side of the tunnel to find out. Finally, when America reappears in the light of day, the work of creating the future will begin in earnest.