It has been said ad-infinitum but we are currently living through truly ‘unprecedented’ times. But, no generation could arguably be more better equipped for such a scenario than today’s generation of young people. It’s been remarked that for many of us nineties babies, a global pandemic is merely a cherry on top of a chaotic pie.
With many of us working on the frontlines of the current health crisis; navigating a transition to online learning; and facing the second recession of our generation, questions remain unanswered. How has this affected us as a generation of young adults; our contribution as members of the workforce; and most importantly, our futures?
From the crash of the Celtic Tiger, to social movements such as repeal, marriage equality and abolish direct provision. All of this is in addition to our own coming of age as young adults. For many of us it may feel we’ve been forced to mature beyond our years sooner than our parents, our grandparents generation before us.
Mair Kelly, a BSc International Development student, believes there’s a sense of urgency accompanied by an acute awareness of the consequences of inaction cultivated from watching the fallout of previous reckonings within Irish society which sets our generation from those which preceded us.
‘We saw when the Magdalene Laundries came to light, how people knew it was happening, but nothing was done. With these issues still so prevalent, it’s hard to envision a future where everyone will be safe. I think social media has been a key factor of this, more than ever before, young people are connected, we can hear each other’s stories, we can support each other.’
Speaking of the sense of dread many of today’s young people experience today as akin to that of the socio-political crisis faced by our parents and grandparents generation Andrew Duffy, a BA Politics student, remarks upon how we quickly become complacent in times of crisis.
‘I think we are in the opening scenes of Shaun of the Dead in which Shaun, goes about his daily life work, socialising and above all else living while TV screens display the increasingly bleak news of the viral outbreak emerging.’
‘This is akin to how many in our generation have responded to the climate crisis and to the later stages of the pandemic. The crisis is there and its existence is amplified by an increasingly all-encompassing pseudo-Orwellian news apparatus that can’t grant any sentient being a moment of respite from the latest “breaking announcing”.
Keeping the Economy Going
In June, the CSO released figures highlighting the impact of Covid-19 on the workforce. Stark figures highlighted 51% of those aged 15 – 24 were unemployed as the retail and hospitality sectors faced the brunt of the Covid-19 fallout.
Although an initial pandemic unemployment payment of €350.00 per week was launched to support those newly unemployed. With many traditional ‘student’ jobs offering little money in the way of sick payment entitlements, precarity or seasonal status left many students ineligible for support.
Recent reforms to the payment will now see students out of work receiving between €203.00 to €350.00 per week. Jack Coughlan, a LLB Law postgraduate student, felt the initial payment was helpful in recovering costs students lost due to the pandemic. ‘The €203 rate of welfare is simply unliveable,’ says Jack. ‘The €350 a week payment shows the government can bring in these payments but simply don’t want to.”
Without access to financial support many students have no choice but the sink further into debt to afford to survive. Mair shares, ‘Some of my friends have had to take out loans for college fees [and] accommodation. While there was a return to activity, in smaller, local and rural areas, finding jobs and work was difficult.’
As businesses began to reopen, some were able to regain employment, balancing new pressures and expectations while also trying to keep customers anxious to return to ‘normality’ happy.
Andrew, describes the sense of unease experienced by staff in the hospitality and retail sector – ‘There is a sense of quiet unease among staff and moany customers, which is expected given the surreal David Lynch-sequel atmosphere generated by the experience of dining and attempting to create a sense of hopeful normality in the midst of a global pandemic.’
Mair recounts her own experience navigating the ‘new’ workplace and it’s pressures saying, ‘I was the only staff member wearing a mask before they were made mandatory, even though when they did, there were still customers coming in without them and it made me really uncomfortable. People peering round the glass, not social distancing and following our floor layout, but the staff were expected to keep customers happy and content and many reacted badly to our suggestions.’
Mair mentions the additional challenges faced as a young person in the workplace, ‘Customers would often come in and talk about how it’s the young people who are causing the issues, having parties, while ignoring our guidelines and social distancing from other customers; after being served by me, a young person. I felt constantly watched, like they were waiting to catch me out. ‘
The Prevailing Narrative
It is true that often the sacrifices young people have made in order to contribute to society during the crisis often takes a backseat within the public narrative.
‘Young people face the pandemic head on everyday’, says Jack. ‘My grandmother summed it perfectly recently. She said she’s relieved she has no work or school to go to, she can stay at home with my grandad, dog and her polytunnel where she grows fruit and veg. She said she doesn’t notice lockdown measures but said she can’t imagine the fear and panic young people face.’
Many students have no choice but to work in order to make ends meet all whilst juggling college, caring responsibilities, contributing to civic work and the arts.
‘The vast majority of us were working hard during the lockdown, working in essential services, at the frontline, unpaid nurses, low wage jobs suffering huge abuse from unhappy customers when asking to abide by guidelines,’ says Mair. ‘Yet after working all day, we return home to see news articles making statements about how the “Covid crisis” was meant to be the “making” of us the “snowflake generation, but many of them have yet to learn how to be adults in the room.’
Andrew believes that the current narrative surrounding young people serves as a useful distraction from deeper socio-economic issues at play, ‘Take the recent flow on social media over moving Dublin to Level-3. Comments and opinion pieces focus on the degree to which young people have been socialising and congregating in the capital but fail to acknowledge two key issues. Firstly, the over centralisation of jobs and education in the Capital that necessitates many young people build their lives there. Secondly, properties in Dublin are absurdly expensive and in increasingly depleted conditions. This results in young people who move to the city to cram themselves into miniate apartments, paying extortionate prices in the process.’
In the wake of rising Covid cases, some commentators have become quick to lay the error of irresponsibility on the younger generation. Those who do, paint a picture of the dismissive flouting of public health guidelines and raucous house parties.
Andrew highlights the role media coverage has played in the cultivation of an atmosphere of ‘blame, overanalyses and scapegoating’ saying, ‘I think the sentiment among the public at large is understandable when one makes a closer examination to the media consumed by middle-aged/elderly Irish people. There have been a plethora of articles, 6:01 headlines and local radio phone-ins concerning the behaviour of young people in the midst of the pandemic.’
What often gets lost in the noise of the media flurry is the positive contribution made by the younger generation throughout this crisis, with many serving on the frontlines of the health sector and local businesses, often sacrificing their own safety to do so.
‘It’s justified in context’, says Jack. ‘For example, yes young people are a large part of the workforce but also aren’t offered sick pay or benefits… so of course there is a risk young people will attend work sick. Better work conditions need to be discussed.’
Vision for The Future
In February the youth vote came out in force to make waves in the general election, at the time it felt like the political tides were truly turning, that meaningful change was about to occur that would change the course of our futures. Fast forward to today and it would be a safe assessment to assume that determined energy has wavered.
Speaking on the hope that was felt by many at the start of this year Mair says, ‘If people weren’t disillusioned with our Government, they definitely are now, for me it really hurt to see how young people were shafted when it came to support.’
Jack reflects upon the sense of being sent on a backwards trajectory when many young people had just begun to build their own lives as young adults.
‘t felt like a huge lurch backwards, I had made a life for myself out of my family home. The last few years Irish society has constantly been moving forward, so has the economy. I myself was also moving forward, constantly wanting more, constantly striving for something.’
Undoubtedly this crisis has exposed and extorted the cracks in our society that remained thinly veiled to those unaffected by them. Strikingly though, it appears as if the young and most vulnerable of society are expected to ‘pay’ most greatly.
However, this moment in time has the potential to pose a critical juncture for our trajectory going forward and create an opportunity for change, as Andrew explains – ‘We can take this crisis as an opportunity to reevaluate the world that existed before and accept that normal wasn’t working. This crisis has dispelled old notions about our workplaces, education and social lives. More and more of us can see that the means by which we organise our economy and political system really is just constructed by people and can be deconstructed and rebuilt in a better way if we have the will.’