Covid-19 has turned millennials into India’s worried generation5 min read . Updated: 10 Aug 2020, 03:46 PM IST
- Still recovering from the impact of the 2008-09 recession, Gen Y has now been hit by the second slowdown brought on by covid-19 at a crucial age when they make decisions about investments, marriage and more
Every morning, as soon as he wakes up at 11, Lakshaya Rajput heads straight to the calendar hung outside his childhood bedroom and crosses out the previous day’s date with a marker. Each set of red lines is a reminder of the days he has been sitting at his parents’ house in Sonipat.
A day before the nation went into lockdown in March, Rajput was placed on indefinite furlough by his employer, a hotel in Delhi. With nothing to do, he packed his belongings, cancelled the lease on his rented Delhi apartment and moved in with his family. “My parents provide everything, but not having a job, my own career, makes me nervous. I can’t live in this village forever and waste my life," says Rajput, 33.
Born into a family of farmers, Rajput was expected to carry forward the legacy. He, however, always worked towards building a life in the city—completed graduation and a hotel management course in Delhi, and spent close to nine years working to save money for his own restaurant. “I could have taken money from my dad, but I didn’t. I wanted to do this on my own. I wanted to silence all my relatives who used to taunt me for not taking up farming," he says.
When he became hotel manager last year, Rajput felt he was getting closer to his dream. “I started my career during the first recession around 2008. It took seven months to find my first job," recalls Rajput. “Now, this virus has brought me back to zero. It feels like I’m dreaming of a future that doesn’t exist." Rajput, who’s now using his savings to buy groceries at home, spends most of his days in his room waiting to hear back from the 100-odd job applications he has sent via LinkedIn.
Despite reports of the economy opening up and the overall unemployment rate dropping to pre-covid-19 levels, hundreds of thousands of people are still looking for a job in a market that may no longer have a space for them. For millennials, who make for the largest age-group wise segment in India’s workforce, it’s a more frustrating and worrying time. They entered the workforce during the 2008-09 recession, a global crisis they are still in the process of recovering from. Research shows that graduates who start their careers during a recession earn less for at least 10-15 years than those who graduate during periods of prosperity. And while millennials, or Gen Y, were entering their peak earning years and making major life choices, like marriage, having children and saving for retirement, the virus showed up.
A July survey by Max Life Insurance and Kantar, a data and consulting company, shows people in metros are more anxious than those in tier-I cities about job security, stable income, inadequate funds in case of a critical illness and increasing day-to-day medical expenses. Of the 1,800 individuals surveyed in 25 cities—six metros, nine tier-I cities and 10 tier-II cities—more than 75% were millennials.
“The financial anxiety and insecurity has been omnipresent among millennials since the first recession, and facing another recession midway in their career is a major hit," says Vivan Marwaha, a policy consultant and author of What Millennials Want, a forthcoming book by Penguin Random House.
What’s worse is that for millennials in tier-II and III cities and villages, where inequalities are starker, wages lower and illiteracy levels higher, absence of jobs can push many towards poverty. “Most of them are really just looking for jobs because chances are that that’s only source of income at home," says Marwaha.
That’s the case in the Rao household in Maharashtra’s Murum village. After losing his father to cancer, Vijay Rao became the sole earner of the house at the age of 16. On 22 March, Rao, 26, lost his job as a peon in Pune, which he’d held for five years, and moved back to his village home to stay with his mother and younger sister. “My mother has diabetes and sister is in college. My savings are getting over. We are now living on one meal a day," says Rao. He spends most of his days waiting for his boss’ call. “He told me he would call me whenever there’s work. I heard the office has opened but he hasn’t still called. I don’t know where to look for a job; there are no jobs."
Those who live in cities and have a job in hand are also worried. Vidhi Krishna, who works at a startup in Bengaluru, believes she might lose her position any day. The company laid off around 20 people in April and since then there have been rumours of another round. “We have been promised there will be no more layoffs, but I can’t stop thinking about it. What if they fire me? How will I pay my rent? How will I look after my child? I do extra work just so I don’t lose my job. I have started learning some new tech skills to become more relevant. But it’s affecting me mentally and physically," says Krishna, 35, a single mother. She has the emotional and financial support of her parents, yet the uncertainty worries her. “I was planning to buy a house but now I’m not sure. What if there’s another such outbreak next year or five years later? Will any of this even make any sense? I’m really worried about the future we are creating for our kids."
Besides job uncertainty, increasing work burden in the present work-from-home setup and lack of job opportunities, the other big reason for stress among millennials is the pace at which the world is moving, points out Indian School of Business (ISB) professor Siddharth Shekhar Singh.
“Earlier, it was very simple: You get a degree and then you get a job. But now everything is moving so fast that what you learnt last year after investing so much money may no longer be current when you actually land a job," he explains.
Among the many reasons Vandana Singh has said no to all the potential matches her retired father has sent her way in the past one year is her low savings. “I want to get married but where are the savings?" Singh, 36, took a break from work two years ago to pursue an MBA, hoping it would translate to a better job and salary. “I ended up having a job that paid me the same as the one before I went for the study break. Plus, I have an education loan now," says the Patna resident, who lost that job in May because of the covid-19 impact on business. Despite having experience of 13 years in the garment industry, Singh is struggling to find work. “I’m ready to work anywhere now. I have a younger sister to take care of. How long can we survive on our father’s pension?"
Like Singh and Rao, Rajput is also fine with a job that pays lower salary. “I just want to go back to work. I’m tired of being worried all the time."