This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
It’s been a fun week to be young. New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) report a 60 percent surge in unemployment benefit claims from 18 to 24-year-olds in the last month. Compared to March 2019, claims are up 82 percent. A Resolution Foundation report, also released this week, said that under-25s were the demographic most likely to lose their jobs due to the pandemic. This tallied with an earlier report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which found that the lockdown hit the young (as well as the low paid and women) the hardest, as they were seven times more likely to work in a sector adversely impacted by coronavirus.
Confused by the data? Let me break it down for you: millennials and Generation Z are fucked. The pandemic has thrown young people – who are less likely to have secure housing, jobs and savings – into unprecedented financial hardship. Industries have buckled under the pressure, and it's young people, often in junior roles or the gig economy, who pay the price. Those still at university have been told that they won't be able to get their fees back, despite being unable to attend lectures or practical workshops.
In immediate health terms, coronavirus disproportionately affects over-70s and people with underlying health conditions. The long term damage to the economy, education and livelihoods, however, falls largely on people under 35.
Anyone born from eighties onwards will have spent their adult life watching baby boomers accrue money in the property market (over-65s account for almost half of the UK's housing wealth) and ride high on the neoliberal policies of the Thatcher and Blair governments. Meanwhile, we left school in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. Now we get slated for eating nice breakfasts. According to 2019 ONS data published in the Financial Times, one in five baby boomers are millionaires. Between 2006 and 2016, their generation has also enjoyed the greatest increase in household wealth, thanks to “soaring property prices, inheritance and the prevalence of final salary pension schemes," Charlotte Ransom, chief executive and founder of Netwealth told the FT. A 2018 Resolution Foundation report found that British young people were the worst-hit financially in the developed world, second only to young Greeks.
And yet, almost as soon as the pandemic hit, right-wing newspaper columnists were suggesting that “Me generation” millennials may be too selfish to observe lockdown rules and "start whingeing how 'stressy' it all is."
While the coronavirus crisis makes this generational divide even worse, gaps between young people of different social class will also be exacerbated. Young people with family wealth can rely on the "bank of mum and dad" to offer financial support during the coronavirus crisis, while those from lower-economic backgrounds may struggle to bounce back from pandemic job losses and rent hikes. For those without, government aid is lacking: Rishi Sunak plans to wind down the government's furlough scheme from July, while Universal Credit claimants must wait weeks for payments due to the huge influx of applications.
However tempting it is to wage war with boomers, what millennials and Gen Z really need is robust post-pandemic legislation that focuses on rebuilding the economy. This should be done in a way that doesn’t just benefit those with the most wealth – i.e. old people. Rent controls must be implemented, helping a generation who statistically spend a third of their income on rent. Trade unions should focus their efforts on growing union membership among young people, and Universal Basic Income should be rolled out to help the country's most vulnerable recover from the crisis. Labour leader Keir Starmer must provide a compelling opposition to oust this tragic Conservative government. We need to be proactive, or things could get even worse.
But hey, what do I know? I'm just a whingeing millennial.