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Unemployed Gen Zers are having to turn work down because they can’t afford the commute and uniform, report shows

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After going through multiple interview rounds, impressing the hiring manager and landing the gig, Gen Zers are being forced to turn down the roles they’ve been offered because of the costs associated with starting a new job, new research shows.

A survey of more than 2,000 16-to-25-year-olds in the U.K. for the Prince’s Trust annual NatWest Youth Index 2024 found that the cost of living is making the youth of today feel anxious about their future and limiting their career aspirations. 

From needing to fork out for a new uniform (or rather, work-appropriate clothes) to splashing out on a travel card to clock in to work—it’s all tallying up. One in 10 unemployed Gen Zers has had to turn down a job because of such costs.

Worryingly, money confidence has hit the lowest level on record in the 15 years since the index started monitoring the well-being of young people in the U.K.—over half of those surveyed are afraid they’ll never be financially secure, and just thinking about money is enough to stress out over a third of them.

This is particularly acute among young women, with 60% worrying that the soaring cost of living will keep them from achieving financial security. Meanwhile, half fear they won’t make enough to support a family. In comparison, around 45% of young men have the same concerns.

TikTok advice

So where are they turning for money advice? TikTok, of course. The number of 16-to-25-year-olds surveyed turning to the social media platform for lessons in the likes of “loud budgeting” has doubled since 2022, according to the research.

The trust said the findings revealed that the current economic climate is having “drastic consequences” on the “confidence, well-being, and aspirations for the future” of young would-be workers, particularly among those from the poorest backgrounds—and overall, it’s impacting their mental health.

“This trap, where poor mental health and employment struggles exacerbate each other, threatens to close in on this generation unless we take immediate action,” said Jonathan Townsend, the U.K. chief executive of the Prince’s Trust.

Mental health is the second-biggest killer of dreams

As Townsend points out, unemployed youngsters are finding themselves in a vicious cycle where being unemployed is bad for their mental health—but at the same time, their mental health is impacting their ability to work.

A staggering 40% of respondents said that suffer from mental health struggles and a third worry that it will stop them from achieving their career goals. 

For a sizable chunk of young workers, their mental health is already getting in the way of their job: One in five have missed school or work in the past year, 18% have felt too bogged down to even apply for jobs, and 12% couldn’t face going to interviews.

Meanwhile, one in 10 young people from poorer backgrounds has quit a job this year due to mental health challenges.

Separate research has echoed that even when young workers do show face, an overwhelming majority are missing the equivalent of a day’s work every week. Essentially, they’re coming into the office but they’re so mentally absent that they struggle to actually achieve anything for almost 50 days a year.

How employers can help

Despite the bleak findings, the research “presents a window of hope,” according to Townsend—that’s because, Gen Z has outlined exactly how employers can step in to help them.

For a third of respondents this looks like support with securing work experience, advice on how to write a CV and conduct themselves in interviews, and training on how to build job-specific skills.

“The overwhelming majority of young people tell us they remain determined to achieve their goals,” Townsend concluded. “What they require however is practical support and guidance to overcome the challenges they face, particularly as the world of work continues to rapidly change.”

Have you had to turn down a job offer because you couldn’t afford the associated upfront costs? Get in touch: [email protected]

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