Young people under attack

February 14, 2010

"Governments making new laws all of the time
Try to tell 'em that being young's not a crime"
— Area 7

The conservative right-wing media were on the attack in the past week, yet again accusing Generation Y of being lazy. The February 6 Courier Mail said: "Employers are refusing to hire Generation Y workers because they lack a work ethic and spend too much time talking to friends in work hours."

Kristy-Lee Johnston, director of Footprint Recruitment told the Courier-Mail: "Employers come to us about Gen Y, saying they're looking for a staff member but they don't want anyone in that 20s age bracket because they find they don't understand common courtesy in the workplace."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd joined in on February 8 when he said young people are too irresponsible. He said he'd prefer the legal drinking age to be raised to 21 years.

When quizzed on the ABC televisions Q&A show on February 8, Rudd told the audience, including 200 high school students, that booze, such as alcopops, was a concerning factor in P-Plate driving deaths.

But Rudd's statements are judgmental and misleading and trivialise the problems young people face today.

Stereotypes of Generation Y as lazy, spoilt with material possessions and unwilling to work, simply divert attention from the real issues.

For instance, many young people today are faced with significant mental health problems and the problem is getting worse. Another serious issue is youth poverty and homelessness. The lack of social services to help young people in crisis is also evident.

In Victoria alone, an estimated 4,663 young people aged between the ages of 12 and18 years, are homeless, said the Youth Central Victoria website. About 55% of homeless youths are female. Tragically, just 51% of homeless youth in Victoria stay in high school.

In Victoria, about 10 young people per 1000 are homeless. In the Northern Territory, the figure is 69 per 1000.

Generation Y is more affected by poverty than other generations, due to being paid "youth wages". Many have little real ability to travel long distances to work due to poor public transport services, especially at night.

Youth unemployment is another big issue. ABC Radio National said in October last year: "Since the start of the year, the unemployment rate for those between the ages of 15 and 19 has increased sharply. Currently it's sitting at 17.2%, up from 12% eighteen months ago and there are concerns it could take years for the numbers to decline."

The sweeping attacks on Generation Y as "bad workers" are attempts to shift the blame for the failings of the economic system onto young people themselves.

The mere availability of alcohol to young people does not explain drunken violence. Two of the biggest causes, which must be addressed, are racism and alienation.

And young people are not just perpetrators of violence, they are often the victims. It is worth remembering that many of the recent racist assaults in Melbourne have been against young Indian students, who have to work late night jobs and travel long distances at night to get by.

In contrast to the bad press, young people can actually play a positive role in society. A new study of Gold Coast Skate Parks by Griffith University debunked some of the myths about youth culture.

Graham Bradley, an associate professor of psychology, told the February 8 Sydney Morning Herald: "Skate parks don't deserve the negative press. We found them to be harmonious, co-operative, safe and pleasant places. There was little aggression or bullying. It's where some boys learn their social skills — sharing, turn-taking, respecting property."

Sean Seymour-Jones, Resistance member and skater, told Green Left Weekly: "Skate parks are a place where I can hang with my mates, learn new tricks on my board and have a good time while feeling safe."

Demonising young people and restricting their already limited rights, will not help young people at all. If anything, it will make youth alienation worse.

What is needed is a huge government investment in jobs, education and more youth-orientated services and activities.

[Martina Popovich is a youth worker in Victoria. Chris Peterson is an organiser of the Melbourne Resistance branch.]

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