Unemployment TikTok is helping Gen Z cope with a global economic crisis

Job losses are skyrocketing But a surprising silver lining is that we're less squeamish than ever to talk about our money issues.

by Emma Kershaw
26 November 2020, 4:27pm

As 2020 winds down, for many TikTok users the FYP has progressively become almost a little too, well, ‘for you’. Since the start of the pandemic, unemployment rates have sky-rocketed — a recent report warned that youth unemployment could return to “1980s levels” — as have the amount of TikTok videos related to it.

But if that all sounds a bit grim, then there’s at least a bit of a silver lining. While another global economic crisis looms, this time TikTok has emerged as a sort of lifeline among the chaos. Over the past few months, users have begun sharing the trials and tribulations of searching for work during 2020, rather than shying away from the stigma of unemployment, as has been common with previous generations. 21-year-old Londoner Ella (@ellaisaodra99) regularly posts diary-style clips that run followers through her day-to-day life in a series titled ‘The London Diaries: Unemployed and lockdown edition’, while Daniel (@dxnielbennett), whose bio reads ‘Anyone hiring?’, has amassed upward of 385,000 followers as a result of his ‘unemployed vlogs’.

While Ella and Daniel are British, and although unemployment related to coronavirus is a growing issue worldwide, much of the TikTok content comes from creators that are based in the US, where job losses are hitting especially hard. In April, when most of America was in lockdown and job losses in the country hit a historic high of 14.7%, fashion graduate Samaya Small began posting content on her TikTok account, @samayasmall, about her own financial worries and experiences.

“I was inspired to start posting unemployment videos as a result of the impact of the pandemic on the livelihoods of so many New Yorkers,” Samaya explains. “Residents had started to lose jobs at an overwhelming rate where there were once jobs available for everyone. I thought it would be good to show a different perspective from someone who is unemployed and is not embarrassed to admit that they don’t have a job right now.”

Samaya documents a day in her life through short clips that regularly gain five-figure views. She also posts honest and unflinching ‘what I spend in a day’ videos, which talk viewers through a typical day on a budget in New York. “My unemployment videos resonate with so many other millennials who find themselves in the same situation as mine,” Samaya explains. “The videos give them a chance to connect with their own hopes, dreams and frustrations with regards to seeking a job during a pandemic.”

However, living in the city is notoriously expensive. In fact, New York is known for being one of the most expensive places to live in America – the cost of living in Manhattan is 148% higher than the average major city in the US. Even for those working full time, the cost of existing in the city can be brutal. For those newly unemployed, the situation is even more precarious. A recent graduate from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Samaya’s internship at Oscar de la Renta was cut short at the beginning of the pandemic. In the seven months since, she has applied, unsuccessfully, for over 600 jobs.

“New York City has always been a competitive market and the pandemic has created a huge challenge for recent graduates like myself to secure employment,” the 22-year-old says. “Many residents have been laid off so decided to leave NYC to seek employment elsewhere, including some of my friends.”

Hustle culture has long pressured us all to project an idealised, flexed version of ourselves on social media, which is perhaps why the financial honesty of TikToks like this are so unexpected and so refreshing. And it’s perhaps why they also resonate with their audiences so much. Since beginning to post her money videos on TikTok for instance, Samaya says that followers have opened up too, messaging her on the platform to share their own battles with unemployment.  “Once I started posting the videos, people have messaged me to tell me that they are going through the same struggles as me,” she says. “Receiving this feedback from strangers is very therapeutic as it allows us to share the trauma that we are feeling and to know that we are not on our own.”

22-year-old Ale Cuadrado is another recent graduate who has unfortunately remained unemployed since finishing university in May this year. Also a New Yorker, she has applied for more than 50 jobs in the past six months, and explains she didn’t even begin hearing back about her applications until August. “It makes me want to stab myself in the eye with a fork many times,” she says of the pandemic job hunting process.

“This year has truly chewed me up and spat me out,” she explains. “The job I was supposed to be starting right after graduation let me go before I had even began.” 

With no job to go to and endless hours of boredom stretching out in front of her every day, Ale turned to TikTok on her account (@martinislut) in July.  “There was a trend a few months ago where creators rated their own outfits. I decided to put my own spin on it and rated my walk of shame outfits,” she says. “After that, I had comments requesting ‘a day in the life’ videos.”

It’s Ale’s money videos, though, and not her fashion content, which really resonate on the platform. One of her most popular clips, titled “life of an unemployed loser in NYC”, gained over 340,000 views. In addition to the highs and lows of job searching, Ale shares many unfiltered moments from her life with her followers. “I was genuinely shocked that people wanted to know more about me,” she says. “I think it’s because I do keep it real and am not afraid to show the humiliating parts of my life… which are a lot.”

Growing a following on TikTok for this kind of honest, unfiltered content is not just therapeutic though, it can also be financially helpful. Since building a following of around 30,000 people on the app, Ale has since used her creativity and time in unemployment to launch her own fashion brand She Goes Down.  “I’m a very energetic person and I get anxious if I have nothing to do,” she explains. “So, when I started to get grossed out by the thought of being ghosted by another company, or a dude, I decided to channel this creative energy and started the brand.”

It is no surprise that young people are more candid about their employment struggles due to growing up in a world consumed by social media. Type in the word ‘unemployed’ on any social media platform, and thousands of results appear, the majority coming from accounts run by individuals who fall into the genzennial category. But rather than videos filled with shame and fear, the kind of emotions we would have associated with unemployment and financial insecurity in generations past, the results are honest, self-deprecating, and actually helpful. “It’s because of the ‘we’re all in this together’ mindset,” says Ale.

And it’s true: the pandemic has precipitated thousands of job losses, and there are undoubtedly more to come. What might previously be thought of as an individual failing is now being discussed as a failing of the system, and that discussion is leading to advice for living within it. “It’s extremely relatable, especially for the younger generation,” says Ale. “Literally most of us are experiencing unemployment or job insecurity right now, so it is nice to know that we are not alone.

“I started to think that I was the problem specifically, but seeing others go through it, it definitely puts it into perspective and motivates you to not give up.”

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