Is today’s generation of young people in crisis? Readers discuss

Author: Sarah Marsh  Date: Thu, 22 Sep 2016 Click here to view original web page at Large numbers of young people (42%) describe themselves as worn down. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Here’s a view from someone coming from an older generation, and they are sympathetic towards today’s so-called millennials:

Frankly, as a 77 year-old, I would not like to be leaving secondary school these days. For most young people it is a choice of getting an insecure low-paid job (probably on a zero-hours contract) or, with good GCSE results, going to university and getting into considerable debt. Very few have an account with the bank of mum and dad.

As for settling down with a partner, that is virtually impossible. Where is the deposit for a mortgage coming from? Where are the council or housing association homes at genuinely affordable rents? The right to buy, championed by successive governments since Mrs T, has decimated the social housing stock.

Young people today certainly do have it tough – and I feel for them. Society is really letting them down, and only the ballot box will change things.

I decided to try again with university at 24 because of a real interest in the subject. I chose London because it’s the only place in the UK that keeps me engaged and inspired … I’m about to start my 2nd year and absolutely love the degree topic. In short I’m glad of my decision.

However, being a student in London still requires part-time work, my loan and grant is not enough to live on. Part-time work is hard enough to come by, but part-time work that doesn’t also make you feel as though you’re going backwards in your career even harder. I’ve managed so far but find myself at the end of a temp contract and needing to find work again. The whole process is soul-destroying because I know I’m capable but employers ask for too much. How am I supposed to get the minimum required experience in a role if no-one will hire me without that experience? Everybody has to start somewhere, and I feel as if this is too often forgotten.

I wholeheartedly agree with the person who said mental health problems come from the transiency and insecurity of youth society, and I would add that not only are we transient, but we are disposable. Perhaps one feeds the other.

Most of us aren’t renting a one bed flat rather than buying it – we live 5 to a house, sharing kitchens and bathrooms. Often no living room as this is also used as a bedroom. These aren’t the part-time freelance writers etc. which The Guardian et al. seem to interview; these are professional people, on high wages for their age group.

Coming home from work, aged 28, to your four housemates, their assorted friends/girlfriends/boyfriends, multiple people trying to use the kitchen, mess everywhere, no ability to own decent possessions as they will be used by a rotating household of people…

While there’s undoubtedly a crisis for young people in some aspects of life (for example, the price of housing), I wholly disagree that this is a bad time to be young.
We live in an exciting time, technology is changing the world and breaking down barriers between class, industry, race and money. We have greater accessibility and more control over our future than ever before.

Speaking from my own personal experience, as a working class ethnic minority, I’ve been able to climb to the top of my career ladder in six years, much faster than the previous generation could have.

Yes the world is changing, and I feel it’s time people my age adapted to those new challenges and embraced the increase in opportunities.

The two main themes from the young people we’ve been hearing from so far? Housing, and mental health.

This is a 30 year old living in London.

Work and study wise, I have been fortunate. I have a degree from a top university and work in a job that I enjoy as a manager at an international development charity. By way of the life that affords me: I live in a three bed ex-local authority house in East London, with four other people. I am currently sharing a room (and a bed) with my flatmate who is 33. We still pay £500 each per month and we are not unusual.

We live like perpetual students, despite progressing in our careers and taking on more responsibilities. It’s painful to still have to grovel like children to landlords when the shower breaks or the when someone loses a key. There is also a cost to relationships which cannot mature at a normal rate. There is a false perception that millennials want to put off committing and living with their ‘life partners’ until the last minute. It’s untrue. For years I lived with a boyfriend in a communal house and I currently share with another couple. The problem, above anything, is housing costs. Believe it or not, after a few years, we all get sick of living like adolescents. Like anything in life, it gets boring after a bit.

And here’s Sam, 25, in Newcastle upon Tyne:

I work as a Software Developer, for a company that treats its staff like family. I don’t get paid a lot, but certainly enough to get by and save a little on the side. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones of my generation.

Even so, I cannot see myself being able to buy my own house in the foreseeable future, I am constantly worried that due to economic pressures I will have to be let go, and my own self worth is barely above what it was when I was unemployed.

I know many people who went to university who were not as fortunate as me, who have to find whatever work they can (usually on zero-hours) just to get by. They all put on a brave face, and pretend that life is working out for them. However there are the odd few who are willing to let their guard done and share just how anxious their lives really are, how this has led to long term depression, bouts of heavy drinking, and panic attacks that prevent them from functioning and feeling like a human being.

An interesting question posed by one of our commenters below the line:

This is a genuine question. What does "can’t afford to live independently from their parents" mean? I’m not questioning that it might be true, but I would be interested in seeing that statement unpicked. Does it mean can’t in fact afford the rent, fuel and food bills to live independently from their parents, or does it mean can’t afford to live at the standard they are used to living at independently from their parents? My home comfort level dropped when I left home many years ago. The places in which I rented a share were invariably cold, cramped and a walk from transport because that made them cheaper. I had no money left over at the end of the month after paying out for basics and for many years few possessions, which made packing easier when moving on to the next rental. I accepted this as the price I paid for independence. Do young people now accept or not accept that there is a price to be paid for independence?

However, I would say that nowadays it’s easy to feel trapped and I think that’s the difference. Maybe back in the day you would pay a certain price for independence but eventually you would be able to afford something nicer, as you progressed in your career. The challenge now is that people live in awful conditions for much of their 30s even, and affording a house is literally an impossible dream, so actually it’s much easier to move back home and save, making that sacrifice to ensure that you might one day be able to live truly independently. I would like to hear what other people think about this question though.

Have this generation had it considerably tougher than that of their parents? Absolutely, says this 31 year old in Hull:

I am the older of the millennials apparently and I have seen many struggle. Many have succeeded (myself included) – however it has not been easy. The 2008 financial crisis affected me for a long time, perhaps a 3 year setback after leaving university in that year. Of my class, I know the males have also had a mixed bag, most are still earning sub £30k being engineers which I would say is very unfair for their abilities.

The three females in our class have all done very well, but thats down to them and getting into the oil industry just in time. I see the debt and disillusion from university – and now college – becoming a colossal barrier to earning and getting a promotion / moving for a new job etc. I know how easy the “older generation” had it in my city, you literally left one job in the morning and started a new one in the afternoon in the docks and shipyards. Now this generation can’t do that.

The social mobility was also much better, as people who had the skills could use them to get as far as they dreamed, and now we are almost saturated with ability and experience, yet still squeezing more and more young adults into less jobs, and less wages. While the older generations may say that they had to start at the bottom – they didn’t start their career with up to £46k of student debt.

It’s clear that many millennials are struggling. Others, of course, have been born into the kind of privilege that means they’re pretty much protected whichever way the winds blow. When we talk about intergenerational differences, it’s important not to downplay the importance of class cleavages that cut across all age categories.

However, it’s young people who’ve been at the sharp end of many recent economic and political changes. We’re more likely to be in insecure, low-paid work with few employment rights. More than one in five of us has been paid below the legal minimum wage. Many people my age can’t afford to live independently from their parents, leaving them feeling like they’re in a state of suspended adulthood.

Photograph: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Welfare cuts have disproportionately targeted the young, possibly because we’re less inclined to vote – and even less likely to vote Conservative – so they aren’t worried about losing our support.

Increased automation is a particular threat to people at the start of their careers and the government should be pouring resources into finding solutions. Instead, the approach seems to to give us an extra kicking while we’re already down.

The view of Harley, a 20 year old from Bath:

As a young person with long term mental health problems, I left school at 16 and have been working ever since. My own home and a family is a pipe dream to me. All I focus on is working, eating and sleeping. I have so many goals I want to achieve, and I have frequent anxiety attacks over my ability to achieve them. I am a passionate Labour party member, and Corbyn supporter, but recent events and attacks on young members have almost scared me away from any kind of involvement.

I recently enrolled at the Open University and just one module has saddled me with £3,000 of debt – I have 5 more modules to complete. All this to pursue a career goal, that my anxiety tells me every day I will never achieve. On top of being on NHS waiting lists for 4 years, with no real progress, I feel like my entire life is one crisis after another.

Here’s the view of Tom, 28, from Watford:

No job security, no security of tenure, with disposable income and ability to save eaten up by student loan repayments. No social structures, given that everyone is transient and focused on their career. It’s extremely isolating, and hard to find friends or relationships. Mental health problems are destroying people.

The whole thing not helped by press and public that continually lambast the young for political apathy and then torpedo anything that looks set to change it – like with your coverage of Corbyn. The sense during New Labour that “this is as good as it gets” is a source of enduring hopelessness and despair.

Well-intentioned though it may have been, telling a generation of young people they could achieve anything if they just work hard enough has been extremely harmful.

To start with, it’s simply not true. There are not enough jobs in competitive industries – law, media or performing arts, for example – to go around, and research shows the small number of opportunities often go to a privileged few. While it’s not always clear from the outside, doors are often opened through connections, background and luck. For many ambitious and talented young people, hard work has not guaranteed success, and it has left them feeling as though their failure to get where they want to be is a personal one, rather than a systemic one.

Worse still is the continued obsession with academic qualifications. The message that GCSEs and A-levels are a magical gateway to a prosperous future indirectly labels those who go on to not achieve good grades as failures who are not capable – or often worthy – of achieving things.

Young people are suffering a huge crisis of confidence, feeling consigned to the scrapheap before their lives have even really begun.

Robyn Vinter is a Leeds-based freelance journalist, write for the i paper, BuzzFeed, various others.

What’s it like to be a young adult today?

Not great, according to a new poll. The research, commissioned by the charity the Young Women’s Trust – involving thousands of 18 to 30-year-olds – found that large numbers are lacking self-confidence (47%) and feeling worried about the future (51%).

Low pay and lack of work has resulted in so-called millennials living in “suspended adulthood”, according to the poll, and the Young Women’s Trust warned that Britain was facing a “generation of young people in crisis”. It called on the government to take steps including creating a minister with responsibility for overall youth policy.

So, is it really that bad? Writing for the Guardian, journalist Abi Wilkinson thinks so. She said: “It’s frustrating to see older commentators go on about the alleged entitlement of feckless ‘millennials’ when the reality for many is poverty, desperation and crushing despair. My generation is at the sharp end of economic processes with calamitous effects for ordinary working people. We’ve been hit hardest by the erosion of employment rights.”

However, others argue that your early 20s are tough no matter when you were born – and that the youth of today have a greater sense of entitlement. Do we have a generation of young people in crisis or is this an exaggeration? What can we do to improve the situation? What are the risks of a generation losing out on adulthood?

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