For young people the COVID-19 pandemic is one of many disruptions defining a generation.
When the pandemic began, the youth labour market was upended, and education disrupted throughout much of Australia. Its impact could further have scarring effects of up to a decade for this generation of young Australians, the pandemic generation.
While we are still trying to understand the long-term impacts of the pandemic, our annual survey of Australians aged 18-24 for the Australian Youth Barometer provides some alarming insights.
This year, nearly all (97 per cent) survey respondents have at least one feeling of anxiety or pessimism.
Just under half (41 per cent) feel like they were missing out on being young. Many worry about their ability to live a happy and healthy life (41 per cent) or even to cope with everyday tasks in the future (41 per cent).
Young people live in an age of disruption and insecurity, such as being able to afford a place to live.
While 61 per cent of young people nominated affordable housing options as a key concern in 2022, this year 70 per cent named affordable housing as an issue in need of immediate action.
Where just under half (46 per cent) thought it was likely that they would be able to afford a place to live during the next year in 2022, this figure decreased to 35 per cent in 2023.
The percentage of those feeling that they will be able to purchase a property or house in the future also shrank from around half to 41 per cent this year.
Affordable housing and cost of living pressures are closely related. In both years, 90 per cent experienced financial difficulties at some point during the last 12 months, with around a third (32 per cent) reporting they did so often or very often in 2023.
The percentage of young Australians not having any form of investment or saving also increased in 2023.
More young Australians think they will be financially worse off than their parents (from 53 per cent in 2022 to 61 per cent in 2023).
While Australia is experiencing relatively high levels of employment, longer-term trends toward insecure, short term and sometimes precarious employment continue. Perhaps this in part explains why more than half of young Australians nominated employment opportunities as another key issue requiring immediate action in 2023.
Only half (52 per cent ) feel that their education has prepared them for the future.
Meanwhile, the workforce continues to change at a pace. Some speculate that artificial intelligence (AI) could automate as much as 18 per cent of work globally. According to the OECD, highly skilled occupations are at highest risk from AI-driven automation, comprising around 27 per cent of employment across the OECD's 38 member countries, including Australia. Equally, AI is likely to affect other existing jobs, prompting a need to rethink skills development.
A thread runs throughout our survey findings: insecurity. Young people, like most of us, seek security. Secure accommodation. Secure employment. Secure relationships. A secure planet.
And yet many of these seem to be increasingly out of reach or influence. Take global warming. While 42 per cent of young Australians nominate climate change as a key issue requiring immediate action, only 31 per cent believe that it is likely that climate change will be combated in the future.
While the challenges young people face might in concert seem overwhelming, these intersecting but discrete challenges can be addressed. We need responses specifically targeting where young people live, learn and work.
Our collective efforts must be directed towards securing the future of young Australians. This begins by fostering security in their present lives - not an easy task.
- Professor Lucas Walsh is lead author of the 2023 Australian Youth Barometer and director of the Monash Centre for Youth Policy and Education Practice.