The Young People on the Front Lines

Wilde Lake senior Maura Fleck on break at her job at Outback Steakhouse, January 2021

Courtesy of Maura Fleck

Wilde Lake senior Maura Fleck on break at her job at Outback Steakhouse, January 2021

During the COVID-19, the burden of working on the frontlines has largely fallen on young Americans. For many, this new struggle is also a source of pride.

From April to July 2020, the number of employed youth (16 to 24 years old) increased by 4.4 million, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Nearly half of young people in the United States are employed, including Wilde Lake senior Maura Fleck, who has taken on another job during the pandemic.

For Maura Fleck, working is dangerous, but necessary. Fleck has worked at Outback Steakhouse for a year and a half. Before the pandemic, she could splurge on activities or save extra money. Now, her money goes to help cover bills. 

Fleck’s job at Outback Steakhouse became more difficult due to the state-mandated decreased customer capacity, increased sanitary regulations, and social distancing. In October, she took on a second job at Bath and Body Works to help support her household. “I have to work harder because of the pandemic,” Fleck said. 

Everyone in the Fleck family works. They always take the necessary precautions, such as wearing a mask and ensuring proper sanitation. Fleck explains that “We all do what we need to do.” 

23-year-old college graduate Elizabeth Williams lives with her parents and is in a similar position as Fleck. After graduation, she returned home and began working as a clerk at a local Giant to help financially support her family. “I had only been here for a year before disaster struck,” said Williams.

When COVID-19 cases surged, Williams became anxious to go to work. She constantly has to interact with people, which has been discouraged as cases continue to rise. “Every time I walked out the door, all I cared about was keeping myself safe, so I can keep my family safe,” said Williams. “But I have to provide for my family.”

Working during this time is a risk– not only to the worker but to their family. The Williams and Fleck family alike emphasize that safety is the priority. “I wanted her to stay home, but she insisted that she went out and worked,” Williams’ mom says.

As the world grapples with unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, young people are holding together their communities. For Fleck, working on the front line is a source of pride. Fleck says, “We are keeping the community in motion and all the businesses up and running.”