Thursday, July 30, 2020

To Work or Not to Work? The Question of Youth Summer Employment in a Pandemic

Regent Park is home to approximately 12,000 people. According to Statistic Canada’s 2016 Census of Population, youth between the ages of 15 to 24 years account for 17% of Regent Park’s population (compared to a Toronto-wide average of 12%). Unfortunately, many of these youth will not have a job this summer due to Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, those that do need to ask themselves whether they are putting themselves at risk for Covid-19.

The summer job is considered a rite of passage for youth. It is a symbol of independence, and marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. As the province slowly reopens, and businesses start to accommodate requests for social spaces, more and more employment opportunities reappear within our communities. However, those burdened with health are hesitant to take on this responsibility. Even with the warm weather and larger gatherings being permitted, COVID-19 remains a threat. However, in a time where costs for education and housing remain at an all time high, students are becoming forced to choose between financial stability and their wellbeing. Still, why should they have to sacrifice one in order to obtain the other?

Even with the constant demand for summer employment, many businesses still remain “understaffed”. As it limits traffic within stores, it is deemed responsible. However, this approach forces individual employees to bear the workload meant for a whole team. Many employees are always on their feet, routinely cleaning surfaces and common touch points. This creates constant stress, which is only worsened when customers are introduced. Youth employees report retail customers acting callous when it comes to safety protocols. An example of this is disregarding the request to have a mask on at all times, and arguing when the request is enforced. Though this may just be an additional frustration, when anxieties are heightened, customer confrontations can escalate into violence. Physical altercations are not uncommon. Essential Worker Brianne Harvie recounts the time that two customers started a fistfight due to one not following traffic lines as marked on the floor. In times like these, youth workers are left wondering if they had been tasked with more than what they had bargained for, with Harvie stating “I don’t get paid enough to babysit you”.

Outside of work, there are still sources of stress for students. Though many have gone back to living with their parents, many are still living independently. The worry of affording rent, groceries, and transport expenses pressures students to overlook the health risks that come with employment. There have also been questions as to why the CESB provides $750 less funding than the CERB, even though many of those utilizing the service share similar expenses.

Many also anticipate the financial strain of the upcoming school year. Tuition has largely remained around the same price, with some institutions even raising tuition for local and/or international students. Additional expenses such as textbooks, as well as a tech upgrade for the virtual workload are also on the list. With the promise of further educational and financial support uncertain, many students report feeling betrayed by their post secondary institutions. However, Regent Park students from low income households are hit the hardest. Should savings run dry, they are unable to rely on family for support. In these times, more and more students consider deferring an extra year. They can avoid a year’s worth of expenses, while raising money on the side. However, should this pandemic drag on, and next fall’s expenses are still a necessity year after year, how long will students have to delay their education due to financial obstacles?

Today, students call for transparency from their post secondary institutions. Why pay the same amount of money when they are no longer receiving the same education and experiences from past years? They are also asking for additional financial support, whether that be through new bursaries and scholarships, or a means to loan equipment and textbooks at a cheaper rate. These same students also ask for patience in the workplace - whether that be from their employers or from their customers. The uncertainties they carry are already heavy. However, acts of compassion, such as simply wearing a mask, greatly alleviates many of the day to day stresses that these students face.

Visit here to see the video: Question of Youth Summer Employment in a Pandemic.

By Minerva Navasca
(Minerva is a summer journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre )

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