Australia's Gen Y: Over-educated and underemployed

January 15, 2016

Young job seekers today are facing the toughest job market seen in Australia for more than 20 years. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, in September last year youth unemployment was 12.93%, after peaking at 14.43% in November 2014.

However, there are youth unemployment hotspots in the Northern Territory, Victorian suburbs, Adelaide, Cairns and North-West Tasmania with much higher rates.

Youth unemployment hotspots were mapped in 2014, revealing that west and north-west Tasmania had the highest youth unemployment in the country, at 21%. Cairns was not far behind at 20.5%, followed by the northern suburbs of Adelaide at 19.7%.

In response to this potential growing crisis of youth unemployment, the then-Abbott government responded with “earn or learn”, supposedly as a way of cracking down on young people living on welfare payments. This premise was flawed for a number of reasons.

Ask anyone who has had to rely on welfare payments — Newstart, Youth Allowance or Austudy — and I doubt any would claim they are living well on welfare. Unless their idea of living well is barely being able to afford the necessities of food, rent and bills, let alone the costs associated with seeking employment or studying. Presentable attire, travelling to job interviews, and printing resumes all cost money and while paper grows on trees, textbooks do not.

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) says the poverty line in Australia is 50% of median income. For 2015 $400 a week was considered the line with anything below that considered poverty wages. The full amount of Youth Allowance, if you face no deductions due to parent's or partner's income, is $426.80 a fortnight and Austudy is the same, just over 50% of poverty line wages. For a single adult with no children, Newstart is $489.70 a fortnight.

Clearly all these payments result in the recipient living in poverty. The claim that someone would willingly choose to live in poverty over employment and decent wages is preposterous. The reality is not everyone has a choice.

Children and young people are told “If you want a good career you need a good education” but to study full time to focus on our studies we are forced to live on poverty level wages. Unemployed people do not choose to be retrenched, sacked or let go and forced on to poverty wages accompanied by a list of punitive measures to keep receiving the payment. People with chronic illnesses either physical or mental, or disabilities do not choose the poverty wages of the disability pension just as old people do not choose to be old and forced out of the workplace on to below poverty level pensions.

Recent reports have also shown that the premise of “to get a good career you need a good job” is also flawed as more and more university graduates are faced with “volunteer work experience”, underemployment and unemployment. People in their early- to late-20s are racking up qualifications and experience but cannot find full employment or in many case, any employment, for love or money.

According to research from Graduate Careers Australia, only 58% of those who graduated with bachelor degrees had found full time employment in the four months after graduating. It is becoming more common for qualified workers across the professions to be hired on short-term or temporary contracts or employed on a casual basis. We now have university tutors and lecturers who have Masters level and above qualifications themselves and are teaching future academics, who struggle to pay their bills.

A fairer alternative to the current neo-liberal system, which blames individuals for unemployment, is to increase the corporate tax and reduce tax subsidies for the wealthy 1% in Australia. This would raise revenue so that welfare payments could at least meet the poverty line, and allow the government to invest in major infrastructure projects, such as public transport and renewable energy, which would in turn boost employment.

We need to kick out any government — Liberal or Labor — that continues to funnel public funds to private businesses because their ideology says that governments don't create jobs, businesses do.

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