The truth is that young people are not behaving differently than Canadians in other age groups.
Ottawa (31 March 2020) ― Online news is filled with photos of spring breakers partying on beaches. Canada, too, has had several social media posts go viral showing crowds flocking to parks and recreational areas (National Post). All of this flies in the face of Canadian officials who are begging people to stay home (CBC News).
Stigma against young people unwarranted
The narrative in the media has largely focused on irresponsible young people flouting the recommendations for social distancing. However, the truth is that young people are not behaving differently than Canadians in other age groups.
As reported by CTV News, a recent Leger poll surveyed 1,508 adult Canadians randomly selected from its online panel. The poll asked questions about COVID-19 and its impact on Canadians. CTV News reported that although 18 to 34-year-olds were most likely to think the crisis is overblown (27% responded yes), there was little difference among the age groups on other questions.
That indicates that the 16% of respondants who said COVID-19 was having no impact on them going out to stores, restaurants or other places, and the 21% who said it was having no impact on visits with friends and family, are just as likely to be aged 35 and above. CBC News reported similar findings from Environics Analytics.
Additional research from Abacus Data backs up the findings from Leger and Environics Analytics. Their online survey of 2,309 Canadians found that Canadians aged 18–29 reported feeling extremely worried about COVID-19 (37%), just as much as those aged 60 or older (36%). In fact, the age group comprised predominantly of millennials (ages 30–44) was the most worried about COVID-19, with 46% reporting they felt extremely worried.
Young people hit in economic fallout
It makes sense that millennials and Gen X are feeling the most worried about COVID-19. In The Generation Effect: Millennials, employment precarity and the 21st Century workplace, researchers at McMaster University and the research group Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) conducted a survey of 1,189 millennials in Hamilton who were not full-time students. They found that only 44% of millennials had found full-time employment, and 47% were working in precarious positions, “including over one-third who are on short-term contracts, freelancing, or working through a temporary employment agency.”
These jobs are the first to be eliminated in times of market instability. Additionally, even millennials and Gen Z workers who were able to secure full-time jobs are at risk of being laid off, as they’re more likely to be new hires than a worker aged 40 or over. They’re also more likely to have high levels of personal debt from education costs and new mortgages.
"It’s understandable that tensions are high during this crisis. People are scared for themselves and their loved ones, for their health and for their economic security. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation," said Larry Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "But as a society, we can’t let ourselves fall victim to blaming one demographic for all our woes. COVID-19 does not discriminate based on age, race, or gender. We must all play our part in following government directives, recommendations from health officials, and common sense to help stop the spread of COVID-19."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE