Alexandra Cruger said she was furloughed on St. Patrick's Day from her...

Alexandra Cruger said she was furloughed on St. Patrick's Day from her job at Red Lobster in Stony Brook, where she said she was a supervisor and a waitress. Credit: Alex Cruger

Generation Z — young people born after 1996 — is facing a world disrupted by the coronavirus, and half of those surveyed in a new analysis say the pandemic has led to them or someone in their household losing a job or taking a pay cut.

"We thought that this younger generation was going to be coming of age in a time of economic prosperity," Ruth Igielnik, senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, which produced the report, said in a phone interview. "But this obviously turned sideways" because of the economic shutdown to try and stop the spread of the deadly disease.

Igielnik said the virus' impact on Gen Z, as it is called, is "as bad or worse than the millennials before them" who went through the Great Recession in 2008-09.

The research center surveyed Gen Zers and others in March to assess the virus' impact, finding that "half of the oldest Gen Zers [ages 18 to 23] reported that they or someone in their household had lost a job or taken a cut in pay because of the outbreak. This was significantly higher than the shares of millennials [40%], Gen Xers [36%] and Baby Boomers [25%] who said the same." 

Pew's report noted young workers were particularly vulnerable because they were "overrepresented in high-risk service sector industries."

Alexandra Cruger, 22, who lives in South Setauket with her parents and brother, said she was furloughed on St. Patrick's Day from her job at Red Lobster in Stony Brook, where she said she was a supervisor and a waitress. 

"Even though I am a full-time college student" at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue, "I worked full time also." Being laid off, she said, "was definitely very terrifying," and she counted herself fortunate that she qualified for and is receiving unemployment benefits.

Ruth Igielnik is a senior researcher for the Pew Research Center.

Ruth Igielnik is a senior researcher for the Pew Research Center. Credit: Kaveh Sardari

Cruger said the virus has upended life. "All the things I identified with has been ripped out beneath me. It’s been a pretty scary time, pretty crazy."

An unexpected finding, Igielnik said, was how the generational divide also affected the political outlook of those surveyed in terms of Republican Gen Zers versus older generations of Republicans. She added the report is a distillation of several surveys from recent months and years.

Pew found that among those surveyed who were Republican or lean Republican, there were "striking differences between Generation Z and older generations on social and political issues." The report said Gen Zer Republicans (43%) were more likely than their older counterparts to say that blacks were treated less fairly in the United States, as compared with 30% of millennials and 20% of baby boomers.

"We thought that was very different," Igielnik said, "because you don’t see that generational divide in Democrats. We saw it in racial views and climate change. Younger Republicans are more likely to be left-leaning on a number of issues."

The Pew report noted that the oldest Gen Zers will turn 23 this year, roughly 24 million of them, and "will have an opportunity to cast a ballot in November." It said the group's "political clout … will continue to grow steadily in the coming years, as more and more of them reach voting age."

A January Pew survey of Gen Zers' political views found that 77% of registered voters ages 18 to 23 disapproved of how President Donald Trump is handling the presidency, versus 22% who approved. Among millennial registered voters, 32% approved of Trump, along with 42% of Gen Xers, 48% of baby boomers and 57% of the silent generation. 

Igielnik said a generational divide among Republicans surveyed also was found in their views of climate change. Gen Z and millennials both were more likely to say the earth was warming due to human activity: 54% among Gen Z and 56% among millennials, as compared with 48% among Gen X and 45% among baby boomers.

The Pew report also said Gen Z is more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations. A "bare majority" of Gen Z, 52%, are non-Hispanic white, 25% are Hispanic, 14% are black, 6% are Asian and 5% are some other race or of two or more races.

"So the truth is almost half of Gen Z is nonwhite, and that’s the first generation that we’ve ever seen that," Igielnik said. "That’s the change that’s coming … The demographic makeup of the country is changing, and we’re seeing that with this new generation."

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