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Generation Y for yoghurt

'Gen Y' by Chris JohnstonIt'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

Edwina, you are right. As a mother of 4 Gen Yers, some of whom left and have moved back home, all of whom are grateful for our support - moral and financial, yes they are at home with our blessing, yes they'd probably rather be living independently, yes it has its frustrations but also many joys.

We are enormously proud of our kids who are decent, fun-loving human beings, sometimes slack with the chores, not always willing to listen to advice, but resilient, optomistic, resourceful and more willing to work than we ever gave them credit for.

The fact that they also have an endless capacity for entertainment is perhaps also to be applauded and is something our generation can learn from. Certainly we feel happier and more alive to have them around.

Joan | 10 August 2009  

I'd like to see these brilliant young people apply their superior analytical skills to learning about "super intelligent" Classical Political Economics theory. Maybe they will be the ones to replace the current Neo-Classical economic system of 18-year Real Estate Boom-Bust cycles, that prevents them from having their own home, by manipulating supply and demand so that they must pay high rent, and pushing first-home buyers into paying massively inflated prices for homes.

Maireid | 10 August 2009  

Edwina, I too very much admire my Gen Y son and daughter and their friends. They are much more mature than I was at their age, and they have certainly not had such an easy time of it during their Uni days.

However, I was disappointed that you took such a belligerent,your-generation-versus-mine approach. It's true that in our young days, instead of attending classes or working, a lot of us were out there being political or simply "dropping out". But in so doing we helped to bring about some real social change for the better.

And yes, it was easier to "start at the bottom" in those days, but by and large this only applied to white, anglo/celtic, able-bodied men (that is, if they didn't get killed in Vietnam first!)

Perhaps I am taking your admittedly clever and amusing article too seriously. But while you will no doubt outlive us, we will be around for a while yet, and we (as a society) will have a much better chance of surviving the present crises if we strive for understanding and support between the generations - and indeed everyone else. (Yes, I'm still a flower-wearing hippy at heart!)

Cathy Taggart | 10 August 2009  

Edwina, we are all bacteria living on in our own unique ways. This Genxer says to you: let's all get along as fellow humans....sorry i couldn't see the tongue in your cheek as you typed...

Andrew | 10 August 2009  

Edwina's thoughts are very interesting, coming when young people are facing a more uncertain future than young people have done for a long time.

The Depression received a mention and it may add something to the discussion to describe young people's attitudes in the 1930s. (I was one of them.) The top worry, the main aim, was to get a job. More broadly, the idea of security was an almost impossible hope for the children of average workers, many of them, like my dad, out of work for substantial periods.

Years later, with teenage and adult children of my own ('baby boomers')I felt it was wonderful that security was not a worry for them and they could concern themselves with idealism; speak their minds; and still be confident of making a living and having a future.

Now, it is a worry that many young people, including children of recent immigrants, without connections to enable them to get a start, face a grim and uncertain future.

Bob Corcoran | 10 August 2009  

Mildly entertaining Edwina. And congrats on being young AND getting into print, past the gatekeepers of people my age (50) and older. Young people should do as they please and ignore the tired, rainbow-coloured rantings of us baby-boomers.

steven | 12 August 2009  

I'm a Gen Y'er who occasionally despairs of the easy generation-bashing that goes on in the opinion/entertainment sections of newspapers. Mostly, though, I take it as the filler and fluff that it is and pay it little heed.

This piece, though, almost made want to age 20 years so as to distance myself from it. Why the petulance and sarcasm, Edwina? You pretty much successfully backed up the so-called 'enemy' case - instead of denying laziness, and proving initiative, you've said "yeah, I'm lazy and codependent - what of it?" If the article had been remotely clever or funny I'd assume it was satirical but since it wasn't, I can only assume you are serious. And if it didn't contribute to the debate/make a point/or make us laugh, I can't quite figure out why it was published here.

Frieda | 17 August 2009  

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