COVID-19 is Not Color blind

April 8, 2020


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This story has been updated with new data on April 23, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives. Millions of lives. Not one person will go unscathed from this pandemic. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones. My heart goes out too, to those serving on the front lines of this human tragedy: the medical professionals, police officers, food delivery workers, and those working around the clock to ensure our nation’s supply chain of safe food and medical supplies is uninterrupted.

I also think about those who do not have the ability to stay home. What about the individuals earning minimum wage who barely live paycheck to paycheck? Those who cannot afford to buy enough food to shelter in place for weeks? Who cannot afford healthcare?

The ability to earn an income for individuals in low-income communities is often directly tied to the ability to afford everyday necessities. Without a stable source of income, individuals who might even be financially supporting their parents or siblings are at high risk. The pandemic has underscored the social inequalities we continue to face as a nation. While viral outbreaks like COVID-19 are color blind, the real-world economic, health and social impacts are not, as lower-income populations are disproportionately affected.

I think about the students we serve at Genesys Works…

Genesys Works students posing for a picture during interview day
Genesys Works’ Young Professionals during mock interview day.

81% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch and today, a sudden loss of income that can be an insurmountable challenge for them and their families. Our students weren’t away on a spring break trip when this pandemic hit. They were working in their internships while still going to high school. Their paychecks weren’t used to buy the latest iPhone or a new car. Their paychecks helped support their families.

As many parents face losing their paychecks, their child’s modest income becomes ever more critical to meet the most basic of needs.

To put this into perspective, 72% earn the same or more than at least one parent. They are working hard to change their future, to get on the path to upward economic mobility. The lack of opportunity for these young professionals could be the difference between having and not having a career. But it’s more essential than that. Because having and not having a career for these students can mean the difference between a life of adversity and breaking the cycle in order to achieve their full potential.

Genesys Works is a nonprofit that partners with leading corporations to provide low-income high school students a pathway to a meaningful career. This means providing students with skills training and internships that deliver the income, tools and opportunities to carve a new path for themselves toward a more prosperous future. Succeeding in a professional work environment while still in high school can be the first step on the path to upward economic mobility - creating a ripple effect that lasts for generations.

We know that the road to financial stability is much steeper for those undertaking hourly, rather than salaried, employment.

As interns, Genesys Works young professionals earn between $13–17K during their senior year of high school, while Genesys Works alumni have median earnings of $45–50K five years after Genesys Works. This means that nearly half of Genesys Works alumni end up earning more than one parent, while a quarter are earning more than both of their parents combined. While the individual impact is clear, the overall effect is far greater, as the success of Genesys Works’ alumni impacts and influences others, building a stronger foundation for their community’s economic future.

In times of hardships, inequities are exacerbated. I write this today with a mixture of emotions: concern for what the future holds for our students and their families, but also pride as I witness the resilience of the young people we serve - students who have time and again faced challenges and risen above them. As the situation continues to develop, here’s where we stand today.72

Many of our Young Professionals are at risk of losing their paycheck.

This pandemic has elevated a conversation around employee protections - who has them, and who does not. The funds earned by students (we call Young Professionals) are integral to many families’ revenue streams, and a sudden loss of income can be an insurmountable challenge. There is still much work to be done. However, thanks to a nimble response from some of our partner companies, many of Genesys Works interns are currently receiving a paycheck, despite office closures. We are grateful to our corporate partners who have committed to maintaining their financial support of our students during this uncertain time, and we are actively working with our remaining corporate partners to try and minimize the negative financial impacts that disruptions in work will have.

The pace of change is swift. You can help.

If the past couple of weeks have shown us anything, it’s that life as we know it can change in the blink of an eye. While internships through Genesys Works are putting better futures within the reach of more low-income students, the COVID-19 pandemic has pulled our young professionals out of the workplace. School can be made up, work can be done from home, but for most of our young professionals, their senior-year internship is likely their one chance to interact in a corporate environment, gain professional work experience and build a network of lasting relationships.

At a time when our students are navigating virus-related fears, the challenges of lost wages, and suspended internship opportunities, they need our support more than ever.

We’re doing what we can to support our students and hope that you will join us.

Here are ways you can help us.


Genesys Works was created to open the doors to economic opportunity to those who might not otherwise have the access and skills required to achieve a lifetime of economic self-sufficiency.
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When history books are written about the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, our actions will tell the story. We stand ready to partner with you to make this the year that crisis motivated us to take unprecedented action to lift up our communities and build a more inclusive economy.

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