‘Boomers vs Gen Z’ narrative hides the class divide

December 8, 2023
Rallying for public housing and rent relief in February, Gadi/Sydney. Photo: Peter Boyle

First, it was young people spend too much on unnecessary products like avocado on toast. Now, as the housing and wages crises deepen for young people, blame has shifted.

The Australian Financial Review, ABC, Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian are running a succession of pieces that pin blame for the growing wealth divide on “greedy boomers”.

But are Baby Boomers — those born in the mid-20th century — really to blame?

Or is it neoliberalism’s push for profits-at-all-costs exacerbating the wealth divide that is hitting young people the hardest?

A report by Monash University, released in November, found that the cost-of-living crisis is having a severe impact on young people.

The 2023 Australian Youth Barometer report surveyed 571 18–24–year–olds and combined the results with data from previous studies.

It found a whopping 9 in 10 people experienced financial difficulties in the past year.

One in five experienced food insecurity, 44% experienced unemployment and 40% felt they may not have a comfortable place to live in the next 12 months.

Researcher Professor Lucas Walsh told The Drum that the COVID-19 pandemic, rampant inflation and a lack of available rentals had “created a perfect storm that is affecting young people negatively”.

With wages and living standards falling, young people on junior rates and insecure short-term contracts are bearing the brunt.

On housing, young people are being forced to live at home longer than their parents or grandparents did.

The Monash study found that 54% live in their family home. It found that 70% from richer families — with access to spare rooms and ample study space — and 38% of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds still live at home.

This is not by choice: the rental vacancy rate reached a record low of 1.1% in September and rentals are continuing to rise, making it impossible for those earning an average wage.

Pitting Gen Z against boomers is an easy way to avoid scruntinising the system that perpetuates and maintains the wealth divide — capitalism.

If governments refuse to ensure housing is a human right, they will plan to ensure developers’ and investors’ rights to profiteer.

We can see the cost-of-living crisis is impacting people along class lines, not generational ones.

Older women are the fastest growing cohort of homeless people. Research by Swinburne University in August shows a growing number of those 55 and older are renting and struggling with rising housing costs.

Nearly 250,000 older people from low-income households were already paying unaffordable rents in 2019–20.

The Australian Youth Barometer claims that young people face “vastly different structural pressures” than previous generations and that “the traditional notion of working hard to become successful has become diluted”.

But that “traditional notion” was always a myth: it was designed to make the already wealthy feel deserving, and push working-class people to work harder.

The “structural pressures” experienced by young people are not new. The cost-of-living, housing and other crises are central to capitalism.

For the establishment media, the other alleged culprits are “migrants”.

Corporate mouthpiece the Daily Mail claimed in September that high immigration numbers are the “root cause” of the housing crisis. But the housing crisis predates the current increase in migrant numbers. Blaming migrants is just another distraction from the government’s refusal to address the commodification of housing.

As the war in Gaza rages and corporate media bosses censor their reporters, young people can clearly see how the establishment sells “culture wars” and outrage while obfuscating the real issues.

This is why young people, in particular, are seeking out alternative media, or find their news direct from social media feeds.

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