Dear Baby Boomers: I Hate You
Let's get a few things straight from the start. Baby boomers, I don't hate you individually. I've got nothing against you personally. I know you are an extremely diverse group. Many of you have struggled with poverty, disadvantage, racism, sexism and homophobia. Many of you have spent your lives working towards the betterment of society. You are not the people I'm talking about, here.
But I hate "baby boomers", as a group, who have enjoyed massive circumstances of privilege throughout their life course - and now vote and demand that subsequent generations do not share these privileges; and now squeal like stuck pigs when the structural inequality that you have benefited from is pointed out to you.
The number one complaint heard from baby boomers is that they had to work hard for everything they got. No doubt you did. But think about it. You could if you wanted leave school at 15 and get a respectable job. You knew that unless you stole from petty cash or turned up drunk, the job was yours to keep. You had a chance for promotion and progression. Training was provided on site. You got paid for it! And a lot of you didn't leave home until you got married. So, you decide to get married at 23, you want to buy a house and start a family - you've got eight years of savings there, with no debt and quite likely having paid little or nothing for housing.
Compare that to a 20 something, now. There are very few unskilled jobs for young people. Companies no longer train their employees - they want hires who are ready to go. As opposition leader Bill Shorten said today, in the near future two out of three jobs will require a university degree. So you have to stay in school, then go to university. So there you are, freshly graduated at 23, not with 8 years of savings, but with tens of thousands of dollars debt.
But surely that university graduate will be able to land a cushy job? Maybe, if you're lucky. But for most, stable employment is no guarantee. You might graduate with a teaching degree and be unable to land a stable teaching job and end up in the casual pool for years. Or with a nursing degree, not getting a new graduate hospital role and ending up working casually for a nursing agency. Or a business degree, and you land a junior role in a corporation, and 16 months later the company announces its closing your state's office and you and the other 350 employees join a flooded job market.
Or you're not that academic, and you've always wanted to be a hairdresser, but your local TAFE has closed and the only one offering the course costs too much even if you were able to get there, and so you end up in a depressing cycle of casual retail work and unemployment.
But the baby boomer, in mid twenties and wanting to buy a house, has worked hard for years. Because they had the opportunity to work hard. And now buying a house is a realistic proposition. Because the house price to income ratio in 1975, for example, was around 3. In Sydney now, it is 5.7. So essentially, houses are now almost twice as expensive compared to income.
So rather than realistically being able to buy a house with a comfortable chunk of savings at 23, the 23 year old today is burdened with a debt approaching six figures, unstable employment and no hope of buying a house. It may take many years to pay that debt off and actually start saving for a house. And whilst they are saving for that elusive deposit, house prices will march ever upwards. Meanwhile, you've paid off your home, maybe paid off a few, and have bought investment properties you rent out to the younger generations unable to afford to buy a place of their own. And you are guaranteed to make a profit, thanks to the taxpayer funded protection of negative gearing.
We can't put the genie of economic rationalism back in its bottle and restore the system of youth employment. But there are things we could do
We could increase funding for TAFE and universities, but you don't want that.
We could ease the pressure on house prices by abolishing negative gearing, but you don't want that.
You could even help out the less well off members of your cohort by giving up some of those superannuation tax concessions in order to increase the aged pension, but there's two chances of that.
And whenever any suggestion is made that you give up some of the massive privilege circumstances beyond your control gifted you, you blame Generation X and Millenials for their financial struggle. You say that you worked for what you got - well, yeah, you got the chance. You say that people today have far more consumer items than you had as a young adult - when standards of living have risen enormously over the past 40 years, the internet is an essential service not a luxury, many people require smartphones for work, and labour-saving devices are essential when trying to work enough hours to stay afloat financially. You blame young people for going on overseas trip, as if a $4000 backpacking trip around Europe if foregone would make up for the deficit of hundreds of thousands of dollars caused by being born thirty years too late.
The more politically conservative amongst you would argue that sometimes life just isn't fair and you have to put up with it. I actually like this argument better. At least it's honest. But the baby boomers who insist the playing field is just as level for young people today as it was for them, who react with outrage when a few structural adjustments to their own lifestyles are suggested, who go off like a frog in a sock when it is proposed they give up a little of the enormous structural privilege they have benefited from to make it a bit easier for the generations that follow - you, you spoilt and selfish baby boomers, I hate you.