Americans of all ages are grappling with life amid the coronavirus pandemic, but among those most affected is Generation Z.
True, older generations are experiencing the highest fatality rates from COVID-19. And every generation is indeed under economic strain, as jobs are lost, hours are reduced, and pay is lowered. But older generations benefit from years, if not decades of normalcy — a strong economy and all of society’s rites of passages.
COVID-19 suddenly interrupted Gen Z’s life, throwing them out of school, canceling their proms and graduations, suspending their internships, and taking away their service-sector jobs. Overnight, their lives were upended.
Gen Z’ers were infants when the 9/11 attacks occurred and hardly double digits when the Great Recession hit in 2008, making the COVID-19 pandemic the first major historical event that Gen Z’ers are old enough to fully experience. Just as those who lived through the Great Depression were forever changed, Gen Z will permanently be changed by the coronavirus.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Gen Z
Among the many effects of coronavirus, an interruption of plans is the most obvious. For many, coronavirus will delay their education, first job, and moving out. In fact, roughly one in six high school seniors say they will definitely or most likely not attend college because of the coronavirus. As they wait for the economy to recover and life to return to normal, Gen Z’ers will be stuck living at home, relying on parental and governmental support, and cobbling together education and employment as they can. As if transitioning to adulthood, affording college, and finding a job wasn’t enough, COVID-19 has taken certainty away from Gen Z.
As one might expect, the pandemic has had a profound impact on the collective mental health of Gen Zers. Schools moving online, and the subsequent cancellation of milestone events has elicited a deep sadness and worry among students. Without the structure of a school day, interaction with peers, and face to face support, students worry that they will find themselves falling behind academically and struggling emotionally. Furthermore, many Gen Z’ers are finding themselves unemployed, worrying about how they will survive without a steady income. For those graduating college this year, the financial concern is even greater. Recession graduates are faced with higher unemployment rates and lower starting salaries.
Social learning network StuDocu polled over 1,600 students between March 24 and April 27 and found that 62.4% of Gen Zers said isolating during COVID-19 has worsened their mental health. The top emotions were stress, frustration, anxiety, and loneliness. Of those polled, only 18.5% reported that they often feel happy during the pandemic. This comes at little to no surprise seeing as young people’s worlds have been hastily knocked off balance.
While the pandemic has undoubtedly had its drawbacks, there is a silver lining. Gen Z’ers say they are using social media to spread awareness and document their new realities, making them feel more solidarity with others around the world. 40% of survey respondents said they hope some good will come out of this situation.