My generation has been making much noise of late. Housing is unaffordable, youth unemployment is a national crisis, and general peace of mind is barely achievable. Jennifer Rayner’s recent piece in The Age fretted on this matter, contending that the members of Generation Y faced a bleak future owing to a range of circumstances outside their control.
I could hardly disagree more. Far from being a generation on the brink, we are the luckiest generation, blessed with the world at our feet. The stream of self-pity from my peers continues to baffle me. I just don’t see it.
I look to my parents’ experience when they were my age and I consider myself lucky. My father took on two jobs and my mother worked nights just to keep the family aloft and pay the mortgage. Both were skilled workers, but it was 1992 and Australia had just had a recession. Youth unemployment was more than 20 per cent, towering over the 13 per cent “national crisis” we have now. Interest rates for a standard variable loan were as high as 17 per cent. Compare that to today’s 2 per cent.
We have never experienced a recession. We have grown up during a period of ongoing economic growth and technological innovation. We enjoy unprecedented subsidised tertiary education, stretching from universities to TAFE. We live in a time when the government helps subsidise our choice to have children and to buy a house. The government offers generous unemployment benefits and unprecedented support to help people enter the workforce. Yet we are feeling unsatisfied.
We certainly have the tools at our disposal to make the right noise. Communication has never been easier. We have ready access to smartphones, smart TVs, and myriad social media platforms. We cry poor, but I’m yet to meet a fellow Gen Y who does not have most of those things.
We are travelling more. A significant percentage of Australian overseas travellers are aged 18 to 30. I don’t know many people my age who have not marvelled at the beauty of Paris, the history of London, or the grandeur that is New York. And why not? Flights have never been cheaper, another lucky break we overlook.
In my grandfather’s day, people ventured overseas to fight wars. In our day, we travel to bank up our Instagram accounts. When he was 12, he was satisfied with an orange for Christmas. When I was 12, I received a Nintendo 64 complete with four games. I still wanted more.
We are, to borrow from both Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey, living in the most exciting time to be Australian, yet we are also so amazingly entitled as to be blind to what we have.
The truth is, we’ve never faced real adversity. Therefore, at the first sign of a challenge – say, buying a home – we scream injustice at something that, for the first time, has not been easy.
Sure, it takes time, patience and frugality. These are traits not often associated with Gen Y. For the first time, we cannot be instantly satisfied, and don’t we hate it. It took me several years to save up for a modest unit in the outer eastern suburbs; buying a first home was frustrating at times. But we need to recognise that we are not entitled to such a dream. Home ownership is earned, and it requires smart choices and sacrifice. Just ask our parents.
Apparently we will be the first generation to wind up poorer than the previous. We may bemoan this but we were not around to see the challenges that they faced. The Baby Boomers and Gen X are now reaping the rewards of their smart investments, and good luck to them.
In defence of my generation, perhaps what we really want is not material wealth, but security, comfort and certainty. These social commodities are now harder to come by, because of the world we’ve inherited: interconnected, global and cosmopolitan.
We must adapt. No generation was born into a perfect world – nor were we. We should stop comparing our lot with that of our parents, because we are living in a world far removed from what they grew up in. It’s a question of how we seize the opportunities this environment has to offer, rather than expecting everything to fall into place.