Pandemic forces teen students to work to support their families

▶ Watch Video: Teens taking jobs to help parents struggling in the pandemic

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, an estimated three million students have not attended school classes. For some, like Melody Vidal, they are balancing taking their classes online and taking care of their families.

Several days a week, Vidal gets a ride to the Mills at Jersey Gardens Mall, where she works at the bakery chain, Cinnabon. Last fall, the high school senior took the job to help her mom financially.

“My biggest fear was being homeless,” Vidal told CBS News’ Meg Oliver. But trying to balance remote learning and work is taking a toll on the 18-year-old.

“It’s so overwhelming, overwhelmingly stressful. I find it hard to live sometimes,” Vidal said.

“You find it hard to live?” Oliver asked.

“Yes. Because of the stress,” she replied.

Maria Medina is Vidal’s mother. She is a party entertainer and does face and body painting. Medina said this past year has been financially difficult.

“I watched a career that I have been working on for 12 years go completely dead,” she said. Medina said Vidal’s help has been a blessing to their family and has helped them survive.

“Would you be able to make ends meet without her helping?” Oliver asked.

“Yes and no,” Medina replied. “I mean, I would, I can figure, I can manage things. I’ve been doing it for years, but her help has been a blessing.”

In the U.S., 17.5 million young people between 16-24 are employed and many to help their families get by.

Johanna Lopez is a high school senior from Los Angeles. She says she juggles an exhausting load between remote school during the day, and working several days a week at a fast-food restaurant. Some days, Lopez doesn’t clock out of her shift until midnight. She said she took the job to help her single mother after she was laid off due to COVID-19.

“That’s when I was like, okay, now it’s time to actually step up cause I have a little brother,” Lopez said.

She brings in about $800 a month and gives $500 to her mom for rent and other bills. The 17-year-old said her mother is strong and while working and going to school can be overwhelming, she tries to keep a positive attitude for her. Lopez said she hopes to go to college in the fall and study to become a music therapist.

Elmer Roldan, the executive director of Communities in Schools of Los Angeles, said young people are under incredible pressure to contribute to the finances in the home.

His organization works with Lopez and hundreds of other students and their families to help provide social, emotional, academic and even financial support to keep kids in school.

“What do you think will happen now that some of these high schools will start to reopen after spring break and you have students trying to juggle school and jobs?” Oliver asked.

“Well, I think that it’s going to put both the schools and the students in a very difficult place, Roldan said. “I think it’s going to force students to have to pick between their education and bringing home that income.”

He said his organization tries to encourage young people to focus on a long-term vision for themselves, like higher education.

“Certainly the income that they’re bringing in right now is a huge lifeline for their families, and all jobs are respectable. But we also know that the potential is there for them to do a lot more,” Roldan said.

For Vidal, just the thought of doing more is keeping her afloat. She hopes to go to a community college next year to study graphic design. She said helping her family ensures that they will have a roof over their heads.

“It makes you feel happy. Makes me feel like maybe we’re not going to be homeless. It’s so scary to think about that,” Vidal said.

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