Student Employees

The struggles of student workers through COVID-19

By Joe Marz

East Campus, once a hub for students, has been left desolate thanks to COVID-19

In a matter of months, COVID-19 went from a dangerous but relatively distant virus to an active threat that changed the way we live our lives. 

Though the world at large has been significantly impacted by the virus and measures implemented to prevent its spread, some people have had to significantly or even completely change their life plans on account of COVID-19. Notably, students at colleges and universities with jobs or internships have had their career plans markedly altered.

According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China in December of 2019. The virus was declared a public health emergency in January of 2020, and a few short months later the world began practicing social distancing in an effort to curb the outbreak — forcing people to avoid face-to-face contact with one another.

As a result of these social distancing measures, many people quickly saw their jobs or careers change drastically. Students workers were no different, as many were forced into temporary unemployment.

“I got an email a couple weeks ago that hourly interns are not considered essential,” College of Agricultural & Life Sciences research fellowship intern Collin Klaubauf said. “So, basically, the university was not allowed to hire hourly interns, which would include me.”

These students were not given an indication that their jobs were in danger prior to losing them, as for many it was simply a matter of receiving an unexpected email or being abruptly told that they were not allowed to come back to work. This is a sentiment voiced by Four Lakes Dining Hall supervisor Blake Bomski.

“We definitely weren’t expecting… to just be told you are now unemployed,” Bomski said.

These students are not the only ones facing sudden economic challenges thanks to COVID-19. According to the Congressional Research Service, the virus could lower economic growth worldwide by 2% for every month that current preventative measures are in place. The virus could also lower global trade anywhere from 13-52%

Students also worry that they may find challenges beyond these economic struggles should social distancing protocols remain in place, as the quarantine may begin to interfere with their future plans. For instance, students who were planning to take advantage of their school’s co-op programs — where they can gain real-world experience with an employer in their chosen career path for a semester— may be forced to put such plans on hold.

“I sincerely hope that all this coronavirus stuff is done by next semester,” Bomski said in response to his plans to take a co-op program. Bomski faces an especially difficult situation with his co-op program, as he had already set plans in place — notably leasing a new apartment —  for this co-op prior to the quarantine.

Other students have similarly found their future plans changed thanks to the virus, as they have been forced to find alternative means of income in response to measures forced upon them by the virus.

“[My friend] hooked me up with a job… which is still happening as of right now,” Klaubauf said.

However, even with more firm summer plans, the future careers of students remain uncertain, as the dangers posed by COVID-19 remain largely unpredictable. Even Klaubauf, who already had to plan around his research fellowship falling through, remains at risk of economic struggles thanks to the virus.

“If my [new] job gets cancelled, which is a very real thing, I’ll probably have to find another job,” Klaubauf said.

Though they have many factors working against them, these student workers are not completely without help. According to the New York Times, there is approximately $2 trillion available in relief funding for those facing unemployment on account of the virus. Additionally, for some college workers in particular, weekly salaries are still provided in order to satisfy the economic needs of these students.

As one of these student workers, Bomski has been afforded a few weeks worth of salary from his job to make up for the money he would have earned otherwise.

“It definitely shows some extension on the university’s part to assist students who are dependent on that job for income,” Bomski said. “It definitely meant a lot to me and I’m sure it meant a lot to other people.”

While the times are certainly challenging, most student workers seem to have a grasp on their situation, and have found ways around the issues posed by COVID-19. These students understand that the problems they are currently facing are not permanent, and that they will find a way out of their troubles. 

“It’s really easy to get down on the situation, but there’s a lot of positive going on within the negative,” Klaubauf said. “We have to remember that this will be over at some point. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”