The careers of young adults have been heavily disrupted by the pandemic. So far, though, there has actually been little sign of increases in deprivation among this group. The furlough scheme and the option (for many) of living with their parents have papered over the cracks, protecting their living standards and, most likely, substantially reducing their risk of falling into poverty.

But young workers are still more likely than older workers to be furloughed, the support from the furlough scheme is being wound down, and living with parents is often not a sustainable or desirable long-term option. It is no surprise that young people report being more pessimistic about their immediate financial future than other age groups.

These are among the key conclusions of new research, published today by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Looking at jobs and pay:

  • The share of young adults aged 19–24 who are not working any hours per week (including those who are furloughed) rose by 25%, or around 400,000 people, from 2019Q4 to 2021Q1 – much more than changes seen for older age groups.
  • The vast majority of those jobs have, thus far, been saved by the furlough scheme, with only 50,000 additional 19- to 24-year-olds without any job at all in early 2021 compared with pre-pandemic. But this leaves the group especially vulnerable as the furlough scheme is wound down.
  • Unlike for older workers, earnings growth among younger employees (aged 19–34) who have continued to work has been lower than prior to the pandemic. This may not have large immediate consequences, but if this ground is not regained then the longer-term effects on their incomes will be significant.

There is no evidence, yet, of increases in deprivation amongst young people:

  • Changes in measures of deprivation for 18- to 24-year-olds have been similar to, or on some measures better than, those for older adults (aged 25–64). For example, reported use of a food bank in the last month by young adults fell from 6% pre-pandemic to 3% in April–May 2020 and 1% in early 2021.
  • In addition to the furlough scheme meaning that relatively few people have lost their jobs entirely, there has been only a small rise in the fraction of 19- to 24-year-olds who live in a household where no one is working – a 1 percentage point rise (from 16% to 17%), lower than the 2 percentage point rise (from 17% to 19%) for 25- to 64-year-olds.
  • Excluding full-time students, the share of 19- to 24-year-olds who live with their parents has increased from 45% to 50%. (Including full-time students who moved back home when universities and colleges closed, the share increased from 61% to 71%.) This highlights the support that many parents are able to provide to their adult children to help them through this difficult period.

Xiaowei Xu, an author of the report and a Senior Research Economist at IFS, said:

‘Young adults have been especially likely to be furloughed during the crisis, though relatively few have completely lost their job. Many have responded to this by staying or moving back in with their parents – providing temporary protection for their living standards. But we know that shocks early on in people’s careers can have negative effects on their future job prospects. Without effective support, there is a risk that young people today will bear the scars of the recession for years to come.’

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