Young people are getting a raw deal. You might think this is the well-rehearsed whine of every generation of youth who don’t know how good they’ve got it.
Unfortunately for young people nowadays, most economic measures show they’re finding it harder than those that went before them, and the cost-of-living crisis is compounding their financial woes.
The findings of a RED C survey we at the National Youth Council of Ireland published today confirm that inflation has created acute challenges for our youth population.
Half of 18 to 24-year-olds reported worse mental health from rising living costs, while more than one in four said their housing situation has worsened in the past six months.
Most worrying is a shocking finding that more than seven-in-10 young people are considering moving abroad in the hope of a better quality of life.
During the pandemic, job losses fell most heavily on people aged 15-24, education was severely impacted, young people’s social lives were upended and research showed dramatic increases in depression. Through it all, young people demonstrated resilience.
They are now back in work in record numbers. They have embraced new opportunities in apprenticeships, in higher education and adapted to new exam formats in secondary education.
Their reserves of resilience aren’t infinite, however.
After a draining pandemic, they now face the second major crisis to impact their lives in the space of three years, rapidly rising inflation.
They are struggling to save, feel like they will never be able to afford to leave home and plan – along with many of their friends – to leave Ireland. Most of all, they are fearful for the future. When asked about the cost of living, eight in 10 told us that.
At this point, you’d rightly ask why this is when our youth unemployment rates are at an all-time low. Unfortunately, even before this crisis, the young had reason to be worried. The type of work they do is generally precarious.
Research by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Council (IHREC) and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) says young people are six times more likely to be on temporary contracts than those aged 25-64, and six in 10 are on low rates of pay.
At the same time, more than 10,000 young people under 20 earn less than minimum wage, with some only entitled to an hourly wage as low as €7.35. Having become accustomed to the next generation earning more than the last, recent years have seen a reversal of this.
Adjusted for inflation, by the time workers born in the 1990s reach 26, they are earning less than those born in the ‘70s or ‘80s. The young also face record rents, little available accommodation and the real prospect they may never own a home.
Meanwhile, young people in higher education face the highest registration fees in Europe, apprentices are lumbered with registration costs of close to €1,000 a year, and people under 25 who are out of work are subject to a welfare rate 43pc lower than friends aged 25 and upwards.
As consecutive crises of Covid and the cost of living happened, young people in Ireland were already struggling with a financial crisis of their own. Past crises, like the Great Recession, have seen young people overlooked, and feeling the harshest effects of unemployment, welfare cuts and high education charges.
This changed during the pandemic with improved income supports and additional funding for youth work, but in dealing with the cost-of-living and youth financial crisis, we need to go even further and place young people at the centre of our planning.
If not, we face an exodus of young, talented people, which will have a significant impact on Ireland’s economy and society at a time of economic uncertainty internationally.
That is why the NYCI is calling on Government to step up and deliver for young people in Budget 2023. It has to mitigate the harshest impacts of inflation by reducing education charges, delivering equality for young workers and jobseekers and by further reducing public transport costs. That should just be the start.
Government must address the underlying financial crisis young people have been dealing with, by delivering on its commitment to a new youth strategy. One which fundamentally addresses the most pressing needs of younger people.
Young people deserve a new deal, not a raw deal.
Paul Gordon is Director of Policy and Advocacy at the National Youth Council of Ireland