How will Coronavirus affect Generation Z’s future?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of Josh Osborne

On 27 July 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approached the end of his election acceptance speech with the quote: “To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected”. He was referring to what is now considered the formative moment of their generation, the Great Depression. This global economic downturn irreparably changed nearly every person in the western world. The ‘Silent Generation’, who grew up through this financial hardship, would evolve to became more risk-averse, economically frugal, and conformist. They revolted against their parents’ hedonistic youth in the 1920s and attempted to avoid the horrors caused by the past from reoccurring in their future.

The only generation since them to demonstrate such similar qualities are late Millennials and Generation Z. Both the modern and depression-era youth share an experience of growing up amongst instability, societal crisis, and rapid change. Gen Z may not have experienced the impoverishment of their ancestors, but the impression of economic pressures remain the same.

In 2014, analysis from Bloomberg suggested that 73% of Gen Z and Millennials had been directly affected by the Great Recession of 2008. Whether graduating into mass employment or growing up with an uncertain future, these generations had their values guided towards cynicism from early on. Compounded by the growth of skepticism towards media, proliferated through increased social media channels, the latest generations already had critical values installed pre-COVID-19.

When COVID-19 struck in 2020, it is unsurprising that Gen Z was pessimistic. Forbes recorded in August that 72% of Gen Z surveyed believed the worst of COVID-19 was yet to come, with only 20% feeling hopeful for the future. Just as their ancestors before them, Gen Z seemed to show little hope for what is coming next and are preparing for further struggles.

Their predictions are not unfounded either. According to the Resolution Foundation, Millennials in the UK have still not recovered from the previous recession; a 2018 report even suggests that those who graduated a decade before still face pay scarring and lower wages. Additional reports from the same year also suggest that younger people are more likely to face ‘working-age poverty’ than any previous generation and around a third of all Millennials will never own a home.

This is the reality looming ahead of the most recent cohort of university students. These students were significantly affected by the virus’ first wave, whose negative effects will span far into the future. On average, they were most exposed to the virus due to their lower page jobs, many of which they were forced to take due to mass unemployment within the professional sectors. These lower-paid jobs will potentially, as they did for Millennials, decrease the amount of valuable hard skills experience required for career development which in turn will lead to reduced job performance and wages overall.

Despite the overriding challenges that will undoubtedly plague Gen Z’s future, it is worth considering the positives. Due in part to the increased time for education, Gen Z looks to be the best-educated generation ever, especially with more finalist students returning for postgraduate courses due to lack of jobs. Gen Z is also more entrepreneurial and technology literate, making them better adapted than their Millennials counterparts for working with non-face-to-face business. Gen Z’s scepticism also makes them realists, meaning they are better suited for the evolving job market they approach which will demand change.

I hope to see our generation embrace gratitude above all else. Having an appreciation for the things taken for granted before COVID-19 will help us be more resourceful, a desirable quality for the eco-focused future. It will help us gain more from the world, but also more from the people, experiences, and places that matter; guiding us towards a more balanced, compassionate, and healthy future.

When President Roosevelt drew his acceptance speech to a close, he exclaimed “this generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny” and like him, we should look out from our world today with the hope and determination to reach our full potential. Rather than submitting to the trials of COVID-19 and recession, Gen Z should use its unique set of skills to build a new society as our ancestors did, free from the struggles that we have faced.