So much for youthful optimism.
A lack of full-time job prospects and an increasingly tense world has left a generation of Australia’s young people feeling bleak about their future.
The new Deloitte 2017 Millennial Survey shows the youth of Australia are feeling aggrieved and frustrated by the way the country is being run.
Just 8 per cent of those captured by the millennial tag believe that they will be financially better off than their parents.
Millennials is a slightly imprecise term, the cohort also goes by Generation Y or Generation Me, but effectively they are those that came after Generation X, born after 1982 but are currently older than 18.
This is a shockingly low result for a country.
Less than 1 in 10 young Australians think they will be more financially secure than their parents. That is compared to the 36 per cent average in the developed world — which includes a fractured Europe and highly politicised US — and the 71 per cent average in the developing world.
But before the outcries from commentators that the young are whingers and do not know how good they have got it, let’s look at why they are feeling pessimistic.
Why the pessimism?
While their parents enjoyed a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity, the future is looking increasingly fraught.
Matthew, aged 30:
“I’m quite pessimistic. Definitely house prices, economy, definitely the market with income not rising with it definitely puts strains and stresses on our generation.
“I can’t see myself owning a home. Probably renting, being in the rental market for I’d say the rest of my life. That’s how I see it.”
Fear of terrorism and crime are now the top concerns for young people in Australia.
The Deloitte survey was taken in September 2016 — relatively soon after deadly terrorism attacks in Nice, Florida and Belgium, as well as dozens of attacks across the Islamic world.
It makes sense that they are among the top concerns for young people today and is something that is being grappled with around the world.
What other things are young people worried about?
Next were concerns about the environment and climate change with income inequality and the distribution of wealth close behind.
Twenty-five per cent of the millennials surveyed named income and wealth as top concerns.
Millennials are facing a future of increasingly insecure work. Jobs are increasingly hard to come by and those jobs that are available are increasingly part-time or casual.
Youth unemployment and job insecurity
Youth unemployment (15-24 years) in Australia is currently sitting at 13.3 per cent — which is roughly double the rate for the broader population.
But even more worrying than that headline figure is the underemployment rate, which for those same youth is a whopping 20 per cent.
One in five young Australians are working, but want to be working more. They want more hours but simply cannot find them in this economy.
Millennials are often castigated for a lack of loyalty to companies. A transactional approach to work where they stick around only while they feel they are benefitting from the relationship (outrageous, I know).
And yet, what this survey shows is that they would actually prefer to be employed on a full-time basis. To be more precise, 76 per cent of them want a full-time gig, not something freelance or consultative.
James, aged 29:
“We’ve never really had a bad depression whereas my parents lived through the ’87 recession, my grandparents lived through the great depression.
“We weren’t really affected by the GFC like the US or the UK.
“So, yeah, I just don’t think we’ve really had those experiences of it being really bad and coming back good to sort of fall back on, so it’s all sort of new to us.”
There are great things being promised about the “gig” and “share” economies. Companies such as ride-hailing app Uber, set-task website Freelancer, and bicycle food delivery services including Foodora claim to offer flexibility and choice to their workers.
Most positions do not require set hours. You log in when you want to get some work and if they have work for you to do, you are on your way.
But this work comes with little to no security, often difficult working conditions and the nature of the remuneration makes attempting to get a loan from a bank pretty difficult.
Which brings us to another place where young people feel like they are being screwed, the great Australian dream has been crushed. Or at least outrageously corrupted.
A pipe dream
The great Australian dream has transformed from owning your home, to owning someone else’s and banking the capital gains.
At some point after the Baby Boomer generation took over the asset base of the country, housing went from being an essential service to provide shelter and safety for people to being, to many people at least, primarily an investment vehicle.
Prices have ballooned beyond a level that most people would think fair or reasonable. In Sydney, where the pain is most acute, prices have gone from an average back in the 1970s of being roughly four times average annual earnings to over 12 times currently.
That puts Sydney second to just Hong Kong as having the most unaffordable housing on earth.
Even if you manage to find yourself, as former treasurer Joe Hockey once so helpfully advised, a job that “pays good money”, you’re going to struggle to buy anything as you compete with property investors who are leveraging off their existing properties and overseas investors looking to park their money in Australia.
Access to affordable housing near work should not be a luxury.
It is a crucial service that is critical to a well-functioning economy. Workers in fields such as nursing and teaching should not be forced to drive hours in order to get to work.
Technology a friend and foe
Technological breakthroughs are happening at a remarkable pace and, for the most part, young people are embracing them. But there is some anxiety about what the technological breakthroughs will mean for the jobs market of the future.
Increased automation and artificial intelligence are likely to make a lot of existing jobs redundant, which should put even further downward pressure on wages at a time when growth in pay packets is already at an historic low.
Thirty-seven per cent of those in Australia think technology poses a threat to their job prospects. A pretty bleak outlook when you are fresh out of university with a mountain of student debt, perhaps for information and skills that are now redundant in the workforce.
You cannot, and should not try to, thwart technological advancement, but there needs to be a conversation about how you transition the economy.
If technology means people will have to do less work, we should ensure that the benefits of the technological advancement are spread throughout the community, with something like a universal basic income.
Some good news on the horizon though, the intergenerational wars might actually cool in the future.
Millennials are relatively positively disposed to their younger counterparts who are currently labelled with a Z. They think those currently aged under 18 will be good for the workforce if they manage to secure a job.
They see them as tech savvy and creative. If only Baby Boomers had such nice things to say about Millennials.
What’s the solution?
The Prime Minister likes to say that Australia’s greatest resources are not the ores in the ground that we ship off to China but the people walking across the continent.
What this survey shows is that a large proportion of our young people are walking around nervous about the future. They feel that they will not be as fortunate as their parents were and that Australia’s best days are not necessarily in front of them.
It is critical that the country does what needs to be done to turn that view around.
Young people are right to be nervous about the future. At the moment, the deck is stacked against them. The great population bulge of Baby Boomers and the assets they have accumulated during Australia’s postwar boom period gives them a huge amount of power.
This needs to be corrected in order to engage Millennials who will be responsible for driving the next wave of Australian economic success. Their success will be Australia’s success.
In economics we talk about animal spirits, the X-factor that gets businesses and people taking risks and driving growth. At the moment the spirit of the youth is deflated.
It is time for politicians and business to demonstrate that their concerns are being heard and will be addressed.
7 February 2017 | 9:14 pm
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