European borders and economies are opening up this summer, thanks to falling coronavirus cases and rising vaccination numbers. But experts warn the pandemic’s scars could be long term and profound—especially for young people, a generation Europe cannot afford to lose.
Things are looking up for young Parisians. Bars and restaurants have reopened, also schools and universities, for the last weeks before summer vacations.  Young people having coffee in Paris. France reopened bars and restaurants mid-may as coronavirus cases dropped. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)At a community room with other students, Sorbonne University student Katarzyna Mac is studying for final exams. She is grateful that months of coronavirus confinement are over.  At a community room with other students, Sorbonne University student Katarzyna Mac is studying for final exams. She is grateful that months of coronavirus confinement are over.  With France’s rolling lockdowns, Mac says, it was difficult and stressful to be alone all day in front of the computer. Like other students in France, she spent most of her academic year taking online classes from home. Katazyna Mac studies for final exams at her student housing outside Paris. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)Experts point to multiple ways the crisis has and continues to hit Europe’s youth — causing economic, social and mental distress. Many, like Mac, already live on the edge.  Shuttered businesses, especially in sectors like hospitality, wiped out job opportunities on which many depend.  European Union statistics estimate more than 17% of people under 25 are out of work — more than twice the regional average. Youth poverty and homelessness are on the rise. So is depression.  Abbe Pierre Foundation’s European Studies head, Sarah Coupechoux, says many European youth are living on the edge. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)Sarah Coupechoux is Europe studies head for French nonprofit the Abbe Pierre Foundation. She says there is a segment of Europeans today, including young people, who are merely surviving. With the pandemic and job losses, huge lines of young people have been seeking food, and are hungry. A recent report by the charity also explores the growing difficulties Europe’s youth face in finding housing.  Like many other young Europeans, Mac was too poor to leave home. But she recently managed to find subsidized housing, at a building for young students and workers on the edge of Paris.  Her apartment has just enough room for a bed, desk and small kitchen. Dirty dishes are piled high in the sink. The refrigerator is mostly empty.  She gets student aid and a small government stipend. But it’s not enough live on. Her parents don’t always have enough to help her out.  Days of studying alone have also taken a psychological toll.  Even before COVID, the disease caused by the coronavirus, she said, she had problems with stress and suicidal thoughts. It got worse with the pandemic. It was especially stressful not to be able to go to class normally.  COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus. The pandemic has compounded hardships for other young people — especially, studies find — those from disadvantaged neighborhoods.  In the working-class Paris suburb of Bobigny, youth activist Stanley Camille says students had a hard time accessing the internet, which they needed to follow online classes during lockdown. Families are poor in his town, he says. Often there’s only one computer for four or five children.  Last year, France rolled out a multi-billion-dollar initiative to help its youth get the jobs, training and education they need. Student canteens offer lunches for just over a dollar. European leaders vow to fight against poverty. But experts like Coupechoux say much more is needed.   Coupechoux says on national and local levels in Europe, institutions must be alerted on the importance of supporting this young generation.  Mac agrees. She is getting psychological help — but says demand is high and state services are understaffed. She and her neighbors have started a support group — and share basics like milk to get by. Long walks in parks like this one, also help.  Mac also landed a summer job doing civic service. Mac says she hopes life will finally get back to normal. But with threats of new variants spreading, nothing could be less certain.  

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