Sunday 23 October 2016

Pipe down, moaning Millennials - you've never had it so good

Young people should try seeing things from older generations' perspectives, then they wouldn't whinge so much, says Carol Hunt

Published 24/07/2016 | 02:30

Millennials: 'My heart is bleeding for them'
Millennials: 'My heart is bleeding for them'

My heart is bleeding for them. All those Millennials, my own daughter included, whose lives have been destroyed by preceding generations. Generations, as they keep telling us, who are now living off the hog, with mortgages paid and lavish pensions guaranteeing us a retired life of ease and plenty.

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A recent Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) report (July 13) outlined the deprivation and suffering currently being experienced by our under-30s, who are now, without doubt, the most impoverished and neglected generation we've had in Ireland since the post-Famine years.

Younger adults, the ESRI tells us in the press release, are "more likely to report issues with financial strain, crowded accommodation and deprivation". This led to newspaper comments like: "the young have it tougher" and "the truth is that it is the middle-aged and pensioners who are spoilt rotten in this country".

And so, as a spoilt middle-aged person, this news makes me feel bad. And, having a masochistic streak, I downloaded the entire ESRI report to see what else I need to apologise to my younger brethren about. Crap telly? Brexit? The internet? Kim Kardashian? Table 3.3 in the ESRI report (page 37) is the one from which the data on our Millennials' issues about housing, financial strain and deprivation is taken from - I know, I know, I find reading data as wildly fascinating as Pat Rabbitte finds watching Oireachtas Report, but in the interests of our poor children, please bear with me.

Now, maybe I'm so old I can't read the numbers right but on first glance the statistics seem to show me that, say, where "income poverty" is concerned, 7pc of the 18-30 [Millennials] group cite it as an issue, compared with 9pc of the 41-50 [Generation X] group. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't that mean us middle agers, stuck with massive mortgages, if not negative equity, property taxes, childcare or university costs, children and elderly parents to care for, are actually in a worse position financially than the Millennials? The 18-30 and 41-64 groups cite "levels of deprivation" to be equal - 11pc respectively. "Lack of social support" is felt far more keenly by the middle aged - at 5pc - than it is by the Millennials (2pc). Which may explain why our "mental distress" and general "health problems" are so much higher than those of the Millennials. But, as we've been repeatedly told, Millennials are "different". They care more than we do - about the planet, about human rights, about small children and kittens - obviously from the amount of posts about such topics they put on social media. They like to protest about social injustice and inequality, but they're not so keen on actually getting out to vote (the marriage equality referendum being a welcome exception). But who am I to criticise them? When I was that age, I protested and complained about older generations ruining my life, repeatedly telling my parents that I was "a deprived child" (it was a running joke in our family, Monty Python style), and knew that when my generation finally got to be in charge, we wouldn't make the mistakes our parents did, oh no! We'd end poverty, bring in world peace and make everything happy-clappy-trappy with bells on. But I was lucky I didn't grow up in my parents' generation, where they lived five to a bedroom; had no indoor toilets; couldn't afford foreign holidays; left school at 14 to go to work but couldn't leave home until they had spent 10 years saving for a house deposit to get married. They couldn't read an Edna O'Brien book without putting a brown cover on it, never went to restaurants and thought a weekend in Bray was the height of sophistication. I don't begrudge them their mortgage-free homes now.

Thankfully, my children - the Millennials - are growing up at a time where they are encouraged to have and express their own opinions; foreign holidays at least once a year are the norm; they can say what they like and know they won't get a beating; contraception is freely available, and going on to third-level education isn't a privilege but something they expect their parents to pay for.

Which is why - like the scene in Notting Hill where the dinner party guests have to tell the best 'woe-is-me' tale to win the last brownie - I'm going to argue that if any generation has been shafted, it's mine - Generation X.

Those of us who bought homes early saved for years for a deposit and then were hit with 18pc interest rates. The rest of us who waited had the bad luck to be buying when the Celtic Tiger was at its height. We'll be paying for those homes until we're 95. We'll also be working until we're 95 - as we're also so busy paying for the cost of keeping the Millennials in the style to which they have become accustomed, we can't afford savings, let alone pensions. Nor do we have the sophistication and confidence of the Millennials; we were reared on the tail-end of the 'don't-get-above-yourself' mentality, which destroyed decades of Irish confidence. We were programmed to be polite, to know our place, to 'fit-in' and not get-above-ourselves; the ultimate put down was a sniffy "who does she think she is?'

Today's Millennials are bursting with confidence, ideas, ambitions, expectations - and we listen to them and encourage them - all of which is extremely good and positive.

We all worked crap jobs when we were young - in the dark depressing days of the 1980s when a work shift in McDonald's was a "great start" - in order to get on the property ladder or pay rent. We did it because we had no choice, but we had a future to hope for, that things would get better. And things did get better...for a bit. And then they got worse again. But Millennials still have hope - while they console themselves by dining out in the many cosmopolitan restaurants and bars they have to choose from, and holidaying in ever more exotic locations - they can hope that Simon Coveney's housing initiative will enable them to eventually buy a home, or that rising inflation will cut our national debt to minuscule levels. They can hope that student loans won't be brought in and Mammy and Daddy will still have to pay their college fees.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for Generation X, with kids and mortgages and elderly parents and dwindling pay packets and no hope of ever riding through Paris in a sports car with the wind in our hair. Yes, we're the ones who are truly screwed. So if there are brownies going, send them this way please.


Sunday Independent

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