On a recent evening, Leïla Ideddaim waited to receive a bag of food, along with hundreds of other French young people who are unable to make ends meet. She saw the chitchat that accompanied the handout as a welcome byproduct, given her intense isolation during the pandemic.
The 21-year-old student in hotel and restaurant management has seen her plans turned upside down by the virus crisis. Her career prospects are uncertain with restaurants and tourist sites shuttered and France under a 6 p.m. curfew. Odd jobs that were supposed to keep her going during her studies are hard to come by.
“I’m in a fog,” said Ideddaim, who moved to Paris last year and is now struggling to meet both her basic needs and her emotional ones.
She is not alone. The long lines of young people waiting for food aid that stretch through Paris neighborhoods several times a week are a dramatic symbol of the toll the coronavirus has taken on France’s youth.
The pandemic has devastated economies the world over, pushing vulnerable people deeper into poverty or tipping some into it for the first time. In France, the economic fallout has weighed particularly heavily on young people — and their woes have only been compounded by disruptions to their studies and social interactions.
Nearly a quarter of French young people can’t find work — two-and-a-half times the national unemployment rate and one of the highest in the European Union’s 27 nations. Many university students now rely on food aid and several organizations have rallied to meet the need.
The pandemic has led to a surge in mental health complaints that authorities say are most acute in people without work, those in financial hardship and young adults. A hotline devoted to students has seen a surge in calls, and young people have streamed into psychiatric wards.
As French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged, “it’s hard to be 20” in coronavirus times.
Other European countries have also noted a particularly heavy toll on young people. In Belgium, some areas are giving aid to students to help them pay for food, rent, transport and psychological help. In Germany, a study by the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf found about one in three children are suffering from pandemic-related anxiety, depression or are exhibiting psychosomatic symptoms like headaches or stomach aches.
Associated Press news