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Students working in the gig economy feel little hope, despite federal financial supports
COVID-19 was initially thought to only endanger those over 65, but young adults aren’t impervious. According to new evidence from Europe and the U.S., significant numbers of adults in their twenties, thirties, and forties have fallen seriously ill from the novel coronavirus. Many young patients in Italy and France required intensive care. Young adults living with chronic illness, immune disorders and other medical conditions are at an even higher risk.
There is another demographic who will suffer greatly during the pandemic, and it’s comprised of mostly Gen Z and Millennials: Freelancers.
Working in a labour market of short-term contracts without the stability of benefits of a full-time job leaves freelance and gig workers particularly vulnerable during any sort of societal or economic crisis — and the COVID-19 pandemic could be considered both.
The federal government last week announced it is creating new benefits to support self-employed workers. The $82-billion aid package includes the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit, which is intended for those who do not qualify for Employment Insurance, such as those who are self-employed.
The Emergency Care Benefit would provide up to $900 every two weeks for up to 15 weeks. The application will be available in April.
There will also be a six-month, interest-free reprieve on student loan payments.
Students, who are in a short supply of time and money due to the academic and financial demands of post-secondary education, often work part time or freelance.
Xana Mills and Kayla Kangas are two students who depend on freelance work.
“It’s not totally your choice if you end up in the gig economy,” said Mills, a digital communications student at Humber College. “You know there are risks associated with it.”
While they say they support the creation of the Emergency Care Benefit and Emergency Support Benefit for those in the gig economy, they raised questions about whether or not it would be enough.
Kangas said that while $900 every two weeks would be helpful, it is too little too late. “I’m not going to be able to apply to it until April,” said Kangas. ”It isn’t a lot of money to pay rent and pay our bills.”
For students who freelance, Mill said that rent poses a much bigger issue.
Kangas cited rent as the most difficult expense for many freelancers, especially those living in Toronto. She said rent relief would be more effective than the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit.
“I mean, they did offer deferrals for mortgages for people that do own their houses,” Kangas said. “I think I could manage and figure out ways to pay my other bills if rent wasn’t part of my expenses of what I needed to pay.”
While the federal government announced it will allow homeowners to defer mortgage payments for six months, there are currently no plans in place to freeze rent or provide financial support to renters.
Premier Doug Ford said on March 19, that eviction orders will no longer be issued due to the pandemic. Enforcement of current eviction orders will be suspended until further notice.
An online petition calling on the federal government to “cancel rent and mortgage payments during COVID-19” has over 600,000 signatures. The petition said that the pandemic “is having a devastating effect on small businesses, gig workers and non-salaried employees,” and that freezing rent would “allow citizens to stay home from work without the added concern of losing their housing and limit the spread of the virus.”