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Dec. 18, 2021, 5:46 p.m. EST

‘Right through my heart’: This video capturing Gen Z’s lost COVID youth has been viewed 14 million times

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By Barbara Kollmeyer

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Murthy cited data showing that, even in pre-pandemic 2019, one in three high-school students and half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, an increase of 40% from 2009. For low-income and minority students, there is plenty of evidence of a more worrying situation.

According to a McKinsey study released in July, the pandemic left K-12 students on average five months behind in math and four in reading by the end of the 2020-21 academic year. And the generation unlucky enough to run headlong into a pandemic faces a potential lifetimes earnings loss of $49,000 to $61,000, according to that study.

Meanwhile, a November report from the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, or Eurofound, warned that the region’s lockdowns — Spain’s young people spent six weeks inside their homes — could permanently detach a generation from society unless policy makers actively encourage labor-market participation.

In Germany, youth unemployment numbers are perhaps the envy of Europe, but even those have been dented by COVID, hovering at 6.5% in October from 5.8% in December 2018. At the other extreme the level is 15% in Spain or 14% in Greece. In the U.S, the youth unemployment rate was 8.6% in November, just above where it was in early 2020.

One small step

Helping young people find some sense of normalcy and recapture lost experiences is also a major part of “The Wish” video. This year the retailer is giving away 5,000 “intensive adventures and defining experiences,” via a raffle that will run until Christmas Eve.

Penny is also gifting six internships that include a fully furnished flat in Berlin or Hamburg, living with other trainees to “have a bit of fun and you can party and whatever you want, but you have the job and get money,” said Julia Leibetseder, senior account manager at Serviceplan Campaign .

“It’s really hard to get one now because no one takes [an intern] now because you know every time you get in lockdown, what do you do with them?” she said. The apprenticeships require individuals to put together a small introduction video, but other giveaways are just via a form on Penny’s website.

Among the latter are concert and travel vouchers, such as Interrail tickets, backpacking tickets — “everything they couldn’t experience,” said Leibetseder.

Holger Zschaepitz , senior financial reporter at German news provider Welt, said such heartstrings holiday videos are a tradition in the country. Retailer Edeka “caused a sensation when it addressed the loneliness of older people,” in a past campaign, he said in emailed comments to MarketWatch.

But he notes that Penny video is more striking. “The sheer number of viewers alone shows how strongly it resonates. Many have wondered how a discount store can feel the mood and feelings of so many people better than the chaotic government,” he said.

Everke said their aim wasn’t to make a political statment, but that his client Penny feels a connection with employees, many of whom are young people, in stores located in the heart of German neighborhoods.

He highlights one comment among the thousands the video has prompted, from a social studies teacher for eighth through 10th graders. It read: “I showed them this and we spoke about it. It’s unbelievable as a teacher that we didn’t talk about this beforehand.”

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