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The Sunshine Economy: Young Workers and COVID-19

In March and April when businesses slowed down and shut down to fight the spread of COVID-19, younger workers saw their jobs disappear faster than older workers.

This was the reality as Caiti Riley neared her college graduation, and as Jonathon Winter looked forward to his performance and teaching career.

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Riley is 22 years old. That makes her one of the older members of Generation Z. Winter is 27, making him a young Millennial.

When American companies quickly cut jobs in March and April, the unemployment rate among 20 and 30-somethings shot up faster than among older workers. And it remains higher than the national unemployment rate seven months into the pandemic.

Hot Industry, Cool Market

Riley graduated in a hot career field, but during a very cold job market. She received her nursing degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University in May. She wasn’t able to find an entry-level nursing job in South Florida, but she did in Orlando. She started in mid-September and collected her first full time nursing paycheck last Friday.

She found a job in central Florida after searching for work in Palm Beach and Broward counties. "I applied for multiple positions and got replies back that the positions were canceled or they're not accepting new grads at this time."

Riley figures she applied for about 25 nursing positions throughout the southeast U.S, networked for connections, and had several online interviews with hospitals. By June, she said she was waitlisted for a few opportunities.

"At first, I kind of felt a little defeated," she said, but she quickly accepted the difficulty in finding her first full-time nursing job.

Like most students, Riley's last semester was interrupted by the pandemic. She was excited to get practical experience as a pediatric emergency room nurse in Palm Beach County. It was a position she had interviewed and prepared for. Then COVID-19 came and canceled her in-person preceptorship.

"I almost had to grieve through losing my senior preceptorship for nursing," she said.

Instead, her almost-on-the-job training — communicating with doctors, nurses, and working with medication — was held virtually.

"I'm trying to keep that positive outlook of the opportunity that I have to grow as a new nurse during this pandemic. I think it's such a huge room for growth," she said.

Transition to Teaching

Jonathon Winter was building his musical career. He’s a violinist who was studying, performing and teaching in South Florida before the pandemic. He was teaching through the University of Miami while pursuing a performance certificate at Lynn University and living on-campus in Boca Raton. When his housing closed over the summer he returned to his parents' home in Iowa, but kept his South Florida students.

"I didn't realize this at the time, but when I kind of decided to take a step back from performing for the year, that actually really helped me, because then I made almost all of my income just by teaching," he said.

The South Florida arts community has been devastated by COVID-19. Live performances have been shutdown for more than half a year. Big productions and small concerts have been canceled due to the public health measures taken to slow the spread of the virus.

Winters would play occasionally with the Palm Beach Symphony and had been scheduled to perform with a group in Colorado over the summer. The pandemic erased that performance pay from his income.

"I know orchestral playing will be a part of my life forever, even though teaching might be my main focus," he said. "Being able to perform and performing regularly is still important. Number one, I stay fresh with my own skills, and number two, my students see me performing."

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Caiti Riley graduated with her nursing degree in May from Palm Beach Atlantic University. After looking for work in South Florida, she accepted a job at an Orlando hospital.
courtesy: Caiti Riley /
Caiti Riley graduated with her nursing degree in May from Palm Beach Atlantic University. After looking for work in South Florida, she accepted a job at an Orlando hospital.

Amber Amortegui
Natalia Clement
In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.