‘My sense of identity is falling away’: young people pay the heaviest price in Covid recession

Ivy-Jane Browne, 22, is a musician just starting her career. Last year she launched her debut EP and this year was awaiting a grant from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music to tour the US. That’s been cancelled, as have planned performances. She also lost her part-time job at the ticketing office of the Sydney Opera House.

She’s reeling and her anxiety has soared. “I’ve had days where I’ve felt incredibly upset and incredibly anxious and just the worst,” she says.

Scott Morrison acknowledges that today’s young people are in a worse position than those who came of age during the last recession in the early 1990s.

“It was hard,” the prime minister says of the previous downturn. “This is harder. We haven’t seen this before and for many young people who have never experienced that, this is beyond anything they could imagine.”

Yet young people have arguably benefited the least of any age group from the government’s Covid-19 support packages so far. The most significant package, jobkeeper, did include specific support for apprentices and trainees but it failed to cover most of Australia’s 1 million young casual workers.

Then there is the overhaul of university fees, cutting student contributions for what the government calls “job-relevant” degrees including teaching and Stem subjects, while more than doubling them for “popular” courses such as the humanities.

The “budget neutral” program amounts to an effective cut in funding for the crippled university sector and Borland says it is unlikely to assist the younger generation.

“It’s a mechanistic, crude way to adjust what people are doing [and] it’s not even clear it’s going to work.”

Borland says the government should instead be investing in the applied, vocational aspects of university education, which give young people “an opportunity to work out whether a job is a good match to [their] skills”.

Danielle Wood agrees, saying broad-based skills and education programs with government-funded internship and apprenticeship programs built into them would best prepare young people for the job market, especially the underprivileged who have been hit the hardest.

“We have a system that’s dudded young people for too long.”

In late May Morrison announced the “jobmaker” scheme, aimed at overhauling Australia’s training system and filling “skill gaps” in the economy. Wood says she is not convinced it will be enough to make a serious dent in the unemployment problem in the short term.

“The Reserve Bank expects unemployment to climb to 10% by the end of the year and still be above 8% by the end of 2021,” she says. “This is too high for too long.” The changes announced as part of jobmaker “might help in the longer term [but they] aren’t likely to create the jobs we need in the next two years”.

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