Thursday 29 September 2016

Claire McCormack: Our locked-out generation

Claire McCormack

Published 03/04/2016 | 02:30

‘The recession cost us all hope of saving money for our futures’
‘The recession cost us all hope of saving money for our futures’

They embezzled us out of our dreams and still the Government and the banks are hell-bent on denying us one last time, writes Claire Mc Cormack

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Back in my school days, I assumed that by the time I reached the heady milestone of 25, I'd be in a good paying, stable job and I'd have my own car.

If I got stuck in and saved hard, I might even have moved into my own house by the time I reached 30.

That time-line seemed genuinely realistic. After all, it had worked for generations before me.

How naive I was.

For my generation - the class of 2005 - the recession wiped out hopes of independence and security. We came out of college in 2009/2010 to a country that was effectively shut down, a government in turmoil, a banking system in meltdown. Options were limited.

We could either take it on the chin or feck off out of the country. As far as those in power were concerned, we were the bottom of the economic food chain.

And a narrative formed. We were not being forced out of the country, we were apparently emigrants of choice, seeing the world, gaining experience, expanding our horizons.

The last thing the Government needed was vast swathes of well-educated young people joining dole queues, hiking up unemployment rates and damaging our global reputation even further.

So we bought tickets, quit our GAA clubs, said goodbye to family and friends and boarded planes for Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK in our hundreds of thousands.

It didn't feel like a choice - it felt like a punishment. For the majority, this was not a milestone; this was not part of the long-term plan.

However, we retained a little youthful optimism - in the same way that a dog given a kick by a cruel owner will turn up again the next morning hoping to get its belly rubbed.

We convinced each other that by the time we'd return, things would be on the up and we'd be first in line to reap rewards for the huge sacrifices we, and our families, had made.

Those who decided to weather the storm at home signed up for unpaid internship after unpaid internship, as their hard earned, expensive, university degrees became more and more redundant with every passing year. They too believed they'd be taken care of when the economy recovered.

And it wasn't just us. There are thousands of parents out there who wonder where it went wrong. They had good kids who studied hard, gained a decent Leaving Cert and a respectable degree. Parents paid for it. They had done their job in raising the citizens of tomorrow.

And then their sons and daughters, doctors, pharmacists, gardai, nurses all bursting with talent, ambition and skill, had to cope with the humiliation of signing on.

We were not a bunch of Celtic baby boomers hoping to get everything handed to us on a plate - we were hard working, enthusiastic and eager to contribute.

The recession cost us the best and most exciting years of our early working life.

It forced us to move back into family homes and depend on financial support from parents and guardians, again. It was like an episode of Star Trek. We were the Klingons.

It cost us our confidence, our vibrancy, and crucially, it cost us all hope of saving money to invest in our futures.

Those who emigrated spent earnings on trips home. Those working in Ireland were getting paid peanuts under the cloud of precarious contracts and those on various JobBridge schemes could barely rub two pennies together.

Qualified teachers, engineers, architects and quantity surveyors, literally worked eight-hour days for free while sitting next to a "colleague" getting paid €40,000 a year for doing the "same job".

Despite the degradation and frustration of it all, we persevered, we told ourselves 'hey, at least we're not in debt, at least we don't have a mortgage over our heads or children to feed. In the grand scheme of things, we're not as badly off as some people'.

And we weren't.

Out of respect for those in deep arrears, negative equity and facing repossession, we remained silent and just got on with it.

But seven years later, that rhetoric has worn thin.

Although many from my lost generation have finally landed jobs in their chosen careers, we are light years from feeling any sense of security. Instead of helping to ease the burden, the banks and the Government are still cracking the whip.

Despite the promises, the employment market down the country is extremely limited unless you're qualified to work in a pharmaceutical plant or medical manufacturing corporation.

If you don't work in these sectors, more than likely you'll be forced to move to Dublin. Today, working in Dublin translates into low-paid, contract-based jobs, extortionate rents and greedy landlords.

According to the Private Residential Tenancy Board, the average monthly rent for a house in Dublin is now €1,430. Meanwhile, a city apartment costs an average of €1,312 - €100 more per month than this time last year.

How does the Government expect a new Garda recruit to survive in the capital on a starting salary of just over €23,000 a year?

If you want to buy a car, you have to certify that you are in full-time employment in order to get a loan. On top of all these challenges, if you want to get on the property ladder, first-time buyers need a deposit of 10pc for amounts borrowed up to €220,000, with 20pc needed over that amount.

This impossible situation threatens to spark a new wave of youth emigration out of the capital.

Nearly a decade after the crash a locked-out generation, of 28 to 32-year-olds is still being punished for the mistakes of others. Statistics suggest the age of the average first-time buyer will have climbed to 40 by 2020.

Yesterday, just 2,690 properties were advertised for sale in Dublin, for a population of almost 1.3m according to the 2011 census.

Newstalk journalist Rebecca Horan spoke for all of us last week when she tweeted: "So we need a combined income of €114,000 euro to buy a small two-bed house near my family on a €300,000 mortgage oh and a deposit of €80,000 - joy".

Last week a study in the UK found that around a quarter of under-40s believe owning their own home is a more important milestone than marriage, becoming a parent or enjoying a successful career.

The study carried out by social research group NatCen found around 50pc of those in their late 30s who do not already own a home think it is unlikely they ever will.

Overall, it concluded that 81pc of under-40s crave the security and 'feeling of success' associated with home ownership.

Here, it's gotten to the stage where my friends and I sit around drinking tea wondering if we'll ever be able to afford a decent couch - let alone a house to put it in.

Almost every conversation will include some chat on how we're all nearly down to our last fiver at the end of the month. Yet no one is splurging on lavish holidays or big nights out.

How on earth are we expected to save for a deposit on low incomes with unavoidably high expenditure?

Going home for the weekend seems to be more popular than ever. Yes, people are heading back to see family or for training with the local club, but it has also become a financial incentive - I won't spend half as much tipping about Westmeath for a couple of days as I would if I stayed in Dublin.

Which raises the question - is buying a house down the country and facing 40 years of four-hour commutes in heavy traffic our only way of acquiring some form of relative security?

For my disillusioned generation, building a career and a life in Dublin has become a completely unrealistic milestone - and it's just a matter of time before we all leave, again.

Sunday Independent

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