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Best of 2009: Generation Y for yoghurt

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'Gen Y' by Chris JohnstonFirst published August 2009

It's fashionable these days to make all sorts of claims about the latest generation to enter the workforce — my generation — Generation Y. Among other things, we are cocky, attention-deficient, home-bodied, highly educated, spoilt and tech-savvy; in other words, unemployable.

Indeed, the weekend broadsheets provide a seemingly endless litany about how we're being dismissed from our comfortable graduate programs, how we're failing to find new jobs, how we're setting our career expectations too high and even how the entire GFC might be just desserts for the generation who've had it all. Incidentally, this sort of commentary has not lessened my generation's tendency to egotism.

Whether we deserve it or not, Gen Y is copping a mouthful of humble pie in this economic downturn. Youth unemployment is at 12.3 per cent, and set to rise with the Government's changes to youth allowance. Smug observers suggest it's time to hunker down, stop making unreasonable demands, and accept that we'll have to tough it out in low-pay, low-benefits jobs for a few years. For once, everything's not just going to be handed to us on a silver platter.

I have two things to say to these observers. First: take a look at yourself. Yes, you're old, but that doesn't make you your dad. You are a Baby Boomer: you never lived through the Depression. Don't talk to me about hunkering down to work, hippy — I actually attended classes during my university degree, and am currently seeking out work.

'Starting at the bottom' just isn't as easy as it used to be. Even apprentices, clerks and administrative assistants need tertiary qualifications these days, whereas my dad, with a year 11 certificate, got his first job as a journalist by showing up the day another guy quit.

Point the second: If you could stop prophesising our doom for a moment, you might see that we're not as hopeless as we seem. In fact, we're pretty shrewd. How else do you explain the fact that while we struggle in this increasingly demoralising job market we're living in your house, eating your food, and being told how special we are (by you, our parents)?

We Gen Y-ers have cleverly secured for ourselves a very comfortable niche in society: staying at home longer, racking up degrees into our mid-20s, and receiving financial help from our parents long after we leave home.Strangely enough, rather than receiving congratulations for this success, we're vilified as parasites feeding off the success of previous hard-working generations.

A bit harsh I'd say. I know of comparatively few young people living at home against the will of their parents; perhaps we're less like parasites than bacteria. Good bacteria — the blue ones that come in yoghurt — hardly noticeable, eco-friendly organisms peacefully coexisting alongside you.

Yeah. And here's the thing about bacteria: it survives. It's ubiquitous in every habitat on Earth, and is vital in performing some really crappy jobs. If it thinks highly of itself, so it should.

So stop telling us that our lifestyle is intrinsically flawed, and that we're failing to address reality. Our reality just looks different to yours, and from our perspective, we're in a pretty good position to deal with any challenges that come along. We're an adaptive species, and even if worst comes to worst, we'll cope.

Yes, we're waking up to the fact that we may have to settle for less for a few years. Yes we might have to start at the bottom. But Gen Y, like bacteria, will survive this and other crises, and outlive you.

Edwina ByrneEdwina Byrne is a recent graduate of Melbourne University with degrees in History and Musicology.

Topic tags: Edwina Byrne, generation y, yoghurt, baby boomer



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Existing comments

I am always amused by the babblings of the X or the Y generations, whatever they are. I was born in 1928, halfway between the two great wars and lived through the Depression with my loving parents and brothers and through WW2; we had good lives and made the best of the conditions as they came along.
When I started work after WW2 I and my contemporaries had to contend with the "ex-servicemen preferred" rule of the time; no-one ever mentions that.

Nobody has come up with a fancy title for my generation, but I have one for us: the lost generation.

Alan Slatyer | 13 January 2010  

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