The young have sacrificed much during the pandemic with little to show

Young Canadians have been blamed for being irresponsible during the pandemic for going to parties and bars. But there’s more hype than truth to these accusations. The deadly virus has been spread by people of all walks of life.

BLM demonstration Kamloops. Image: CFJC Today

Young people are sacrificing the opportunities of a lifetime. This is a time to build professional networks for future careers. Relationships have been delayed at a time that they are looking for lifetime partners. Families are being put off for better times.

As an older person, the sacrifices I make are minimal –stay home and watch Netflix. Sure, I miss going to shows, bars and restaurants but these can hardly be characterized as sacrifices compared to what young people endure.

Government response has been geared to protecting the assets of older people, particularly wealthy old people. When stocks crashed in the self-induced pandemic recession, central banks pumped money into markets to preserve share worth and property values.

Economic relief is geared toward protecting the wealth and income of the top 10 per cent in society -those with homes, accumulated wealth and a defined-benefit pension- not for young people.

Young people have been hard hit with job losses and increased exposure to the virus. They’re more likely to live in shared accommodation and work in jobs that require a high degree of face-to-face contact. They are more likely to rely on public transit. And when they work in office buildings, it’s in relatively cramped conditions.

But what is clear is that if governments are determined to “return to normal,” the bulk of new infections will likely occur among young people for the simple reason that they inevitably engage in more social interaction than older people.

Despite receiving an unfair share of the blame for spreading COVID-19, young people have received little credit for leading protests against injustice.

Many young people are deeply idealistic, calling for such things as democracy, racial equality, climate action, human rights and justice in policing.

In Kamloops last summer, young people organized a protest in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. They called it BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) to reflect the overall injustice of racism.

The Tiny House Warriors in Kamloops, led by Indigenous youth, have protested the building of the Trans Mountain pipeline on unceded Secwepemc Territory.

The Idle No More movement, founded in 2012 by Indigenous youth, was in reaction to the Harper government’s removal of protections for forests and waterways in Bill C-45.

“Let’s be brutally frank here,” says John Rapley, political economist at the University of Cambridge, “As a disproportionate number of elderly people died, young people might actually face improved economic prospects.”

Young people have the most to gain when this pandemic sweeps the globe. Older people are more likely to die from COVID-19, which could improve the economic prospects of the young; fewer people drawing from pension plans, more houses on the market which would drop the price.

Young people have borne, and continue to bear, the brunt of isolated social interactions. They lead movements against racism, brutality and colonialism with little appreciation for their efforts.

One-time handout to the homeless reduces social costs

It may seem counterintuitive to give cash to homeless people. Didn’t their poor money skills get them on the street in the first place?

image: Vintage Fitness

The University of British Columbia decided to find out in an experiment. In cooperation with a charity, Foundations for Social Change, they gave a one-time handout of $7,500 cash to 50 people who been homeless for an average of six months and tracked them over the next year. They also tracked a control group who received no payments. Both groups received counselling.

The homeless group moved into stable housing faster, ate and were clothed better, and even saved $1,000 after a year. They spent 39 per cent less on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.

And they reduced the social cost of homeless-shelter services that amounted to $8,100 a year.

The results of the experiment challenge stereotypes of the homeless –that if they just stopped begging on the streets and shooting up toxic drugs, if they got a job and tried harder, they wouldn’t be homeless. But sometimes life delivers hard knocks.

Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to believe in you and to trust that you will spend money wisely. If others believe in us, we can believe in ourselves.

As a high school teacher in Electronics and later an instructor at Thompson Rivers University, I’ve found that when you expect students to do well it’s a big motivator.

The same is true for the homeless. Given a hand up can go a long way to restore confidence, empower people to find housing, regain stability, and bring back dignity and a sense of well-being. Cash handouts are not merely a gesture of help. It is a signal that society believes in them.

One participant said: “I had hit rock bottom. You couldn’t get any lower than where I was. I had no hope and then when the money came and I found housing and then daycare it just all kind of came into place. It was so nice, you know?”

The pandemic has made it glaringly clear how cash transfers have kept people out of poverty. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) helped many but that’s ended, replaced with more targeted programs.

According to a popular pandemic quote: “We’re all in the same storm but not the same boat.” Job losses owing to COVID-19 are heavily skewed toward working-age Canadians at the low end of the income scale – restaurant and hospitality workers, young adults, new immigrants and women.

Charities, such as the food bank, the Mustard Seed and Salvation Army, have a role to play in alleviating suffering. But charity reflects and amplifies the gap between the ones giving and the ones receiving. I feel good when I give to a charity but the imbalance in power is obvious.

If something isn’t done to help Canadians through this crisis while preserving their dignity and confidence to survive; if the gap between the rich and poor increases; we will all be worse off, including the rich.