It's been more than six months since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Australia. In that time, it's safe to say that every Australian's life has been impacted in one way or another.
At the start of this crisis, older Australians were some of the most affected given anyone aged over 70 was strongly encouraged to stay at home and self-isolate.
There's no doubt they're still affected by this pandemic, but as we reflect on the past six months, it's obvious there's been another demographic that's been severely impacted: our youth.
They have been hit particularly hard by job losses.
The latest unemployment statistics show there are around 334,000 young Australians who are unemployed. The official youth unemployment rate is more than 16 per cent, however, in Newcastle/Lake Macquarie it's almost 25 per cent.
As shocking as they are, these statistics don't tell the full story.
If you include young people who have given up looking for work due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, the nation's real youth unemployment rate is more than 26 per cent.
Looking specifically at teenagers, more than 35 per cent of this age group are out of work.
In May, 45 per cent of the jobs lost belonged to young people. The industries most affected in the Hunter region by COVID-19 are food services and hospitality, accommodation and arts and recreation. The majority of people employed in these sectors are young Australians.
As a consequence, young people are experiencing significant housing stress.
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Research from the Australian National University found that almost half of all young Australians living out of home had not been able to afford their rent or mortgage repayments throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. All of this is understandably affecting our youth's mental health.
Another ANU study found that young Australians are experiencing more severe psychological distress as a result of this crisis than any other age group.
An ANU study found that young Australians are experiencing more severe psychological distress as a result of this crisis than any other age group.
On top of that, they were dealt another blow when the government announced radical changes to the university sector which will lead to fees soaring for certain degrees, in particular arts and humanities. For example, annual fees for a social work degree have increased from $6804 to $14,500.
This is despite the fact that at the University of Newcastle, 94 per cent of social work students are employed within four months of completing their degree.
These changes are not only extremely unfair, they're bewildering.
With youth unemployment so high, more young people will be wanting to further their studies at university, so it makes no sense that the government would want to make it harder for them to do this.
Young Australians need our support and assistance more than ever during this challenging period. It's one of the main reasons I have been urging the government to develop a comprehensive jobs strategy that outlines a plan to create well-paid, secure jobs into the future.
We are in a recession, and without a plan for jobs, unemployment will be higher for longer, which will slow the recovery.
While I was pleased to hear the government finally confirm they would be extending JobKeeper and the increased JobSeeker base rate albeit temporarily beyond September, they still have not come up with a plan for creating jobs and getting Australians back in the workforce.
Labor has made some constructive suggestions on how this could be done that have so far been ignored, including building more social housing and settling on an energy policy.
It was important for the government to extend JobKeeper to ensure employees maintain connections with their employers, however, we also need a comprehensive plan for secure, well-paid jobs in the future. Young Australians who have been so heavily impacted by COVID-19 are depending on it.
As this crisis continues, it's important that local youth are heard and not forgotten. In the coming weeks, I'll be engaging with as many of them as possible, including through a quick survey.
I'm keen to hear from young people in the Shortland electorate about how COVID-19 has affected them, and the issues they're most passionate about.
It's important that when advocating on their behalf I am doing so on what matters most to them.
In the meantime, my advice to young Australians is to not give up.
I know this is a stressful and challenging time for many of you, but this pandemic won't last forever.
We will get through this together.
Pat Conroy is the Federal Member for Shortland
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