Gen Y frets over a looming bleak future
Published: April 4, 2016 – 11:07AM
By the age of 30, my mum and dad were settled, prosperous parents of three; homeowners, tenured workers tucking away super and long-service leave, and possessors of both everyday and special-occasion cutlery.
Growing up in the striving suburbia of the Hawke and Howard eras, I never doubted that my friends and I would lead lives that eclipsed theirs. I assumed we’d continue the golden trend tracing back to the Great Depression, yet another Australian generation to enjoy more wealth and opportunity than our parents did.
In my own 30th year, I doubt it now.
As I look around the bar on a Friday after five, I see none of the steady satisfaction that brimmed from my parents and their peers. Instead, I see young people squeezed by creeping pressures not of their making and largely beyond their control. I find people in their 20s living out an ever-extending adolescence as the building blocks for a stable, comfortable life slip further from their reach. I hear brittle laughter at black jokes about renting until 50 and retiring beyond the grave.
I see my generation becoming the first in more than 80 years to go backwards in work, wealth and wellbeing. That’s because Australia is so busy planning for the looming grey tsunami that we’re letting an entire generation fall behind. If we don’t think harder about building a future for the old and the young, my friends and I will be just the first of many generations to face lives of shrinking opportunity.
Before the shrieking starts about spoiled Generation Y, consider these few facts. In 1990, a worker in their 50s earned $220 a week more than someone in their early 20s. Today that wage gap has widened to more than $600.
Between 2004 and 2012, average net worth for people in their late 50s and early 60s grew by almost $179,000. But the net worth of people in my age cohort actually shrunk by $15,000. That has seen the wealth gap between my generation and my parents’ widen to more than $839,000. There’s a reason I still make my olds pick up the tab when we go out to dinner.
Young Australians are also finding it hard going in the job market. Beyond the headline youth unemployment figure, which has remained stubbornly high for more than a decade, work is becoming less secure and finding enough of it is a growing challenge. The number of young people in casual work has jumped from 34 per cent in 1992 to 50 per cent today.
Over the same period, the percentage of people working without entitlements in their later years barely moved. Similarly, where fewer than one in 30 young people were underemployed when my parents first entered the job market, the figure now stands at more than one in five.
The problems with housing affordability are well known, but the impact of this on young people bears repeating. Today, more than half of people in their late 20s and early 30s are still renting; home ownership in this age group has fallen 25 per cent since the early 1980s.
For those who do manage to get into the market, the average mortgage on a first home has jumped from $81,000 in 1985 to $308,000 today. What’s more, young people buying now are unlikely to see anything like the huge returns enjoyed by homeowners over the past 20 years, because the cost of servicing such massive mortgages will mostly cancel these out.
All this eats at our mental and emotional health. According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Australian health survey, more than 37 per cent of people under 24 and almost 30 per cent of people between 25 and 34 are white-knuckling through their days in moderate to extreme psychological distress. The Department of Health reckons the prevalence of mental-health issues such as depression and anxiety may be up to three times higher among young Australians than across the community as a whole.
Wellbeing among Australia’s young won’t improve until we acknowledge this link between our material and emotional circumstances. At the moment, these are too often considered separate realms demanding distinct responses.
I don’t believe Australians want things to be this way. I think we want to be a country that does right by all its people; a community that can take care of the old without making second-class citizens of the young. To do that, first we need to recognise where we’re going wrong. Then we need to find the will to fix it. Because a country that makes no room for the young is a country that will forfeit a fair future. This must not become Australia.
Jennifer Rayner is an adviser to the Australian Labor Party and the author of Generation Less: How Australia is Cheating the Young.
This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/gen-y-frets-over-a-looming-bleak-future-20160404-gnxhyh.html