opinion

The cost of keeping us safe from COVID-19 will be paid by Millennials.

Right now, older Australians are shouldering the largest burden of COVID-19. They are among those most vulnerable to the ravages of this disease.

But this virus has managed to inflict suffering in other ways, too.

The Government has predicted that 1.4 million Australians could be out of work by the middle of the year; an all-time high for this country. And it says that it could have been far worse, were it not for the $130 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy program.

All generations are feeling it. Sorely. But most of the economic pain of this crisis will be endured by a single generation, the one that represents the largest proportion of the workforce — and particularly the hard-hit casual workforce: Millennials.

The COVID-19 financial relief packages, explained.

That pain isn’t just immediate.

As ANU public policy economist, Professor Robert Breunig, told Fairfax Media, the enormous debt created by the support/stimulus packages will be repaid from the future incomes of young Australians; incomes that will likely be reduced by this pandemic.

They’ll be the ones hit hardest by the higher taxes or reduced public services that will help foot the bill.

“The massive government spend of at least $330 billion to counter the economic shock of COVID-19 will have to paid for by young people,” he said. “The design of Australia’s tax system has pre-determined this outcome.”

It’s going to be a tough blow to a generation already wobbling on the back foot.

Victims of bad timing.

Millennials — those born between 1981 and 1996 — have suffered major economic crises at particularly pivotal times in their working lives.

When the Global Financial Crisis struck in 2009, many were searching for or clinging to their first full-time jobs, paying their first leases or (for a fortunate few) mortgages. They watched as their parents and grandparents had their superannuation decimated, grateful that they would have the time to recover, but knowing that (in an unfriendly job market) that would be a long and arduous road.

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Now, as they build their families and assets and start cementing their careers, comes a second wave — one that threatens to rival the Great Depression, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Even before this economy crippling pandemic, Millenials were at risk of becoming the first generation with worse quality of life than their parents.

Yep, the generational wealth gap is very real.

A Grattan Institute analysis found that older Australians spend more, have higher incomes and greater wealth than older Australians three decades ago. But for young Australians, it’s changed very little.

And before the accusations about takeaway lattes, avocado toast and overseas holidays start flying around, it’s worth pointing out, this stagnating wealth is not because of Millenial spending habits. In fact, young Australians are spending less on non-essential items such as alcohol, clothing and personal care than young Australians were three decades ago. They are, however, spending more on necessities, such as housing.

And little wonder.

House prices have risen much faster than incomes over that time. Median prices have increased from around four times median incomes in the early 1990s to more than seven times today. The number of low-income households in rental stress (that is, those spending more than 30 per cent of their income on housing) has also increased.

The past few years have thrown stagnated wages and rising underemployment into the mix as well.

Now, all this.

It’s not a matter of ‘woe is us’. (The costly measures, both on a personal and national level, will save the lives of thousands of Australians. And there is nothing more valuable than that.)

Nor is it a frustrated sense of entitlement. Or lack of motivation or ingenuity. Or selfishness.

It’s simply learned pessimism.

The delayed federal budget is due to be delivered in October, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it will include a plan for dealing with COVID-19 debt. Millennials should be watching closely.

Read more about COVID-19:

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, remain in your home unless strictly necessary, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

Feature image: Getty.

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