You can never be sure what will follow when a baby boomer begins to ask the (always rhetorical) question: “Do you know what the problem with your generation is?”
OK, Uncle John. I’ll bite. What is it this time? IPhones? Video games? Avo on toast?
Millennials (also known as Gen Y) have been broadly stereotyped as the “cripplingly lazy” and “irresponsible” generation. But are the crises of unemployment and housing really about Millennials or is the problem with the end of the millennium itself?
A survey of Australian youth (Deloitte 2017 Millennial Survey) revealed that young people feel increasingly bleak about the future. Less than 1 in 10 believe that they will be financially better off than their parents, compared with averages of 36% in the developed world and 71% in the developing world.
So, what are the Millennials whinging about?
Underemployment for young people is at the highest it has been in 40 years. A third of Australian youth have no job or are underemployed — double the rate for the broader population. Work is increasingly insecure.
The jobseeker market is flooded and those jobs that are available are increasingly casualised. The so-called “under-utilisation rate”, which combines unemployment and underemployment levels, is now higher than it was during the 1990’s recession.
Meanwhile increasing automation is eradicating jobs and putting downward pressure on wages at a time when wage growth is already at a historic low.
37% of people think technology poses a threat to their job prospects. Students are emerging from tertiary education with unrepayable student debt, and with information and skills that are fast becoming redundant in the workforce.
Technological advancement should relieve workers without a loss of pay, not send them into financial insecurity. Automation should be twinned with a universal basic income.
Australia is fast becoming a world leader in housing unaffordability. Sydney is second only to Hong Kong in the most unaffordable housing in the world.
A tin shed in an inner city Glebe laneway went for $1.69 million last year, demonstrating that the “Australian dream” of homeownership will remain just that — a dream.
Last December, the median house price in Sydney was $1.1 million, nearly 17.5 times the top starting salary for university graduates and roughly four times the average annual earnings in the 1970s.
No wonder 80% of young people, according to an industry superannuation survey, believe that homeownership is out of reach.
Since the Baby Boomer generation took over, housing has become an investment vehicle rather than a right.
The federal government hasn’t come up with anything useful. The federal minister for housing affordability Michael Sukkar suggested young people “get highly paid jobs” to secure a home. In May, PM Malcolm Turnbull suggested young people ask their parents for a loan to buy a house, as he did for his 23-year-old daughter who purchased a $2.7 million property.
“Intergenerational equity”, as Turnbull described it, is how millionaires and billionaires have maintained their wealth and privilege.
Sleepwalking or #woke?
Faced with the facts, even Uncle John might concede that Millennials have been dealt a bad hand. But does that mean that Millennials have sleep-walked into this mess or are we #woke to it all?
A survey of Australia’s youngest voters at the previous federal election showed that young people are most concerned with social issues, but also rank taxation and housing affordability among their concerns.
In the past two years, the buzz around the politics of democratic socialists Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain as well as the resurgence of the Black and women’s liberation movements — epitomised by the SOS Blak Australia movement and Black Lives Matter in the US and the Global Women’s March — has tapped into a mass frustration with the status quo.
Recently, young people have flooded the streets in our tens of thousands for marriage equality, many making the point that the Turnbull government is wasting $122 million on the postal survey which could be better spent on plugging gaping holes such as housing, education and welfare.
Capitalism is in crisis and economists predict that we are hurtling towards a possible recession. This will hit young people with no financial safety net the most. Last year a poll in the US conducted by Harvard University found that a majority of young people no longer support capitalism.
Millennials’ inheritance is a 21st century defined by rampant neoliberalism and an economy geared towards serving the rich and powerful.
The system wasn’t built for us. We would be wrong not to fight it.
[Mia Sanders is the national co-convener of Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance.]