Youth unemployment and poverty rising

May 2, 2014
One in five students skip meals and about two in three students live below the poverty line.

Youth unemployment has risen to double the national unemployment rate, a new report by the Brotherhood of St Laurence has found.

The overall unemployment rate is 6%. But for 15 to 24 year olds it is 12.5% and in some areas as high as 20%. The rates of youth unemployment have risen for the past two years. The length of time young people are unemployed is also rising.

Young people who choose to study at university are also facing a life of poverty.

A report commissioned by Universities Australia in July last year found one in five students skip meals and about two in three students live below the poverty line.

The report surveyed 12,000 full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students. The results show youth poverty has reached critical levels and is having serious effects on the lives of young people in Australia.

The cost of living is rising, while wages, especially for young workers, remain stagnant. This, coupled with high rates of youth unemployment, means that many students will have difficulty even earning a wage.

Worsening this problem are deep cuts to social services, rising cost of public transport and the increasing corporatisation of the university system, meaning students are forking out huge amounts of money for the services they need while receiving less and less from the state.

Cuts to youth allowance and student scholarships mean that students from the working class are less likely to maintain their studies. With each cut, more students drop their studies and many can’t keep up with intensified curriculum and large, impersonal class sizes. This generation of students is paying far more for far less.

It is this “perfect storm” of social inequality and impoverishment that is making student life increasingly untenable for working-class students in the university system.

Sam McGuire, a student at the University of Queensland, testified to the terrible conditions she had experienced by telling Green Left Weekly: “I moved out of home when I was 16, I only got $230 a fortnight from Centrelink. My rent was $85 a week. I put aside a bit for bills and was left with $20 a week to live off. I had to work as well and between the problems that pushed me to leave home as well as the new found stress of living hand to mouth I dropped out of school. Now if that's not hardship I don't know what is.”

For international students, life can be even harder. John Ishikawa, a student at the Queensland University of Technology, commented: “International students are doubly oppressed. We need to pay full fees, usually more than $20,000 per year, and because it is assumed that we are all wealthy, we don't get any options for aid or loans, and not even small yet significant things such as public transportation discount.

“The reality of it though is that many international students save up for years before they can come to study in Australia, and are far from being rich enough to live without a full income, without any subsidies or discounts, while paying full fees.

“This is why so many international students find themselves in poverty once they get to Australia, even if they are not from a poor background, and often end up being exploited as very cheap labour (often well under minimum wage), and are easy prey for landlords who house them in squalor because the students can't afford more.

“As international students are put on very strict visa conditions and have the danger of deportation hovering over their heads, very few are willing to get organised against exploiting bosses and landlords.”

This is the life of students today. This growing impoverishment and desperation among young people, coupled with rising casualisation and unemployment in the workforce they will be entering, is a pressure cooker on the youth of this nation.

What is the alternative? Student poverty is not inevitable. It is only inevitable if the logic of neo-liberalism and corporate greed, in short the logic of capital, prevails.

Students, staff and working-class communities need to be putting a different logic forward, a logic that puts the needs young people first. The alternative to student poverty is a universal living wage for everyone. The alternative to youth unemployment is a program of green jobs and jobs in the social services. The alternative to rising costs of living is taking the basic utilities of society into community hands.

The alternative to cuts to social services is a massive extension of social programs, organised for and by the community. Most importantly, the alternative to crushing university debts and education cuts is free, comprehensive university education for everyone. We have the right to a better future than this, it is time we created it.

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