Generation Y is supposedly frivolous and unreliable, with no understanding of the value of money.
Employers bemoan young people’s lack of commitment and parents say that travelling and owning the latest gadgets are more important to these “kidults” than saving for a house deposit.
But according to new author and proud Gen Y advocate, Dr Jennifer Rayner, this is all rubbish.
“We’re going backwards in wealth, which means the way we plan for the rest of our life as we grow older is much different from our parents’ generation and older generations,” she said.
If you’ve recently visited a bookstore, you may have noticed a small, red and grey book titled Generation Less. This is Dr Rayner’s book – and it contains scary stuff, especially if you’re aged 20 to 35.
The analysis of the 29-year-old Labor staffer, who holds a PhD in political science from the Australian National University, is that Generation Y is “cooked” when it comes to jobs, houses, skills and finances.
“When I started looking at the data, I realised just how much the changes that have come about in the last 20 years have really tracked along my own life,” she told The New Daily.
“For example, when my parents bought their first home, housing was three times the average income. When my ex-husband and I bought our house a few years ago, it was seven times the average income.”
It’s not just the property problem that has Gen Y banging their heads against the wall; it’s the deadly cocktail of an increasingly casualised workforce, increasing debt, disappearing manual labour work and a “grey ceiling” of older workers who refuse to budge from senior positions in the workforce that is shaping a bleak future for our second-youngest generation.
“When you look at the data, you’ll see that wages have grown twice as fast for people over 50 than under 30, and that one in six people are unemployed as compared to one in 30 back in the 1970s,” Dr Rayner said.
As noted in the book, the number of young people working casually jumped from 32 per cent in 1992 to 50 per cent in 2013. At the same time, wage growth more than doubled for 50 to 54 year olds between 1990 and 2013, while the 20 to 24 age group are only earning 25 per cent more than in 1990.
Unless politicians and businesses start introducing Gen Y-friendly policies, for the first time in its history, Australia will be left with a generation that is less wealthy than the one before it, the author said.
So what can actually be done? Dr Rayner said training and education policies must start planning for those who will not be attending university.
“We don’t currently do a very good job with them – we don’t make sure that they’ve got the right kind of skills and training to get into good jobs.”
Housing policy changes are just as important: “We absolutely have to do something about the affordability of housing.”
Meanwhile, Gen Y members should start thinking seriously about starting a business, which Dr Rayner believes is the best way to try and close that wealth gap. And they should get involved in policy and advocacy, or else nothing will change.
“Although things may be pretty bleak for our generation, that doesn’t mean that we should give up and not try and solve these problems.”