Dear Penny: Will Coronavirus Doom My Kids’ Plans to Work This Summer?

Two sister laugh while talking on one of their beds.
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Dear Penny,

I have two kids in college. Under the current government rules, they are not eligible for any type of coronavirus relief payment. 

Who is going to hire students for the four months of the summer? This is how my kids pay for their university. They work hard in the summer, save all their money and live very frugally during the school year so they don’t have to go into debt. 


Dear M.,

Life for the next several months is going to look a lot different from what we anticipated. Who knows what the ripple effect will be in the months and even years to come? Unfortunately, college students aren’t exempt from the uncertainty.

You’re right about the fact that your kids probably won’t qualify for coronavirus stimulus checks. A huge number of college students are left out because their parents claim them as dependents, so they don’t get $1,200, yet because they’re 17 or older, their parents won’t get a $500 child credit on their behalf.

As for who will hire students for four months of the summer?

If your kids have vehicles, there are plenty of opportunities if they’re willing to be delivery drivers. Grocery delivery service Instacart recently announced plans to hire 300,000 independent contractors to help with the 150% surge in orders it’s seen since the start of the outbreak. Amazon is hiring another 100,000 workers. Grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores are also hiring.

Remote work could be a possibility as well. Self-plug: The Penny Hoarder has a work-from-home jobs portal where we regularly post job listings.

But with most people in the U.S. now ordered to stay home, I’d expect competition for remote jobs to be fierce.

Of course, if remote work isn’t available and social distancing practices continue into the summer, your kids will face the same impossible decision that so many workers face: Is a paycheck worth risking your health over? And for so many, there really is no choice because even a few weeks without a paycheck could be devastating.

If your family’s economic circumstances have changed significantly due to coronavirus, your kids should make an appointment with their schools’ financial aid offices. Many schools are still operating their financial aid operations remotely, but don’t expect to get through right away, as they’ll be fielding countless calls from students in similar situations.

Ultimately, though, your kids may have to alter their college plans somewhat if those summer jobs don’t pan out. It’s great that they’re willing to work hard all summer and live frugally during the school year so they can focus on their studies and avoid student loans.

But what may have been a realistic plan for 2019 may not be realistic in 2020.

Maybe that means your kids have to take on small student loans to make up for the summer shortfall. Or that when things return to normal and they return to campus, they have to work 10 or 15 hours a week during the school year.

I’m not suggesting that they bury themselves in six figures of student debt or that they work a full-time job on top of carrying a full course load — just that they prepare to adjust their plans, as all of us are doing. 

You can take comfort in knowing that college-age students will have time to bounce back from these hard times, even if they last longer than we want to imagine right now. For older workers who lost their jobs or retirees whose investments have nosedived, recovery will be a lot harder.

Consider this one of those tough lessons that they don’t teach you in college: Even the most methodical planning is no match for real life.

Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and the voice behind Dear Penny. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]