Video by Tom Compagnoni
Baby boomers are being blamed for everything these days, from damage to the environment to high housing prices and, of course, the high cost of social security. But are we really to blame for all of that?
I think we can take quite a high level of blame for environmental damage, although not exclusively. That is a subject for another day. Right now, I want to focus on the financial damage we are purported to have done to those generations who will follow us.
Some of that damage can be attributed to the sheer numbers of baby boomers -- there is no doubt that we are an economic blip or bulge unlike anything the world has seen before. But hang on a minute... are we to blame for the fact that there are so many of us?
I mean, really, we were not responsible for our own births! Shouldn't the responsibility for our numbers lie with our parents' generation and perhaps with the churches and conservatives who were so opposed to birth control?
I feel for young families who are struggling to buy a house but I compare them to my situation and I have to ask about their expectations and priorities.
So, let's look now at all those privileges we have had that the later generations feel they have missed out on (and maybe we will find some that they have had but we didn't).
When it comes to our finances, we didn't have compulsory superannuation in Australia until the Superannuation Guarantee, which came into effect in 1992 at 3 percent. By 1992 I had been working for 20 years; oh to have had compulsory superannuation for that missing period, let alone at 9 percent.
What we did have (and every Australian still has) is the legislative framework to negatively gear property. But to say that members of our generation are all wealthy property owners and are pushing up prices through their investments is just a lie. I feel for young families who are struggling to buy a house but I compare them to my situation and I have to ask about their expectations and priorities.
Unlike many of my generation, I didn't buy my first home until I was in my forties. Why? Well, I was far too busy having a good time; travelling, wearing expensive clothes etc. I don't see that as the fault of anyone other than myself. That first home was far from grand, a one-bedroom apartment in a less-than-desirable location. Oh, and the initial interest rate on the loan was 16.75 percent. It seems to me that it isn't only that real estate is expensive, but that our expectations of what we 'need' to buy are now out of whack.
And let's remember that baby boomers didn't receive a baby bonus (although there was a child endowment system, which became the Family Allowance). Paid maternity leave didn't exist and many women lost their jobs when they left to have their children (some indeed were required to retire when they married!).
It might be near impossible to purchase a house in an inner suburb of a capital city, but what about all those one-bedroom units which are experiencing price pressure due to a glut? Why are single people not purchasing those?
Many baby boomers struggle with being the 'sandwich generation', where they are taking care of ageing parents and also financially supporting young adults (including supporting them through university). Because, of course, our lucky/greedy generation all had our university education for free.
Yes, we had free university education under a policy that was in place for just 14 years. I am a beneficiary of that policy and very grateful for it. But let's not assume that all baby boomers were able to take up the opportunity; at that time, many Australians still did not finish high school, let alone tertiary education.
Baby boomers by and large had to compete academically for entry to tertiary courses. I would not have had a university education if it was not free and I still worked full-time while I studied part-time. I contributed to the economy as a student and I still do as a retiree. In my opinion, university education should still be free and we should also have excellent alternatives such as TAFE and other career-specific colleges. An educated population is a positive aspiration for the future and one we should continue to move towards.
According to Universities Australia, "In 1970, only three percent of Australians held bachelor degrees. In 2012, almost 37 percent of young Australians had degrees, and participation is growing strongly towards the national target of 40 percent by 2025".
So no wonder paid or unpaid university education is costing the current generation more -- there are more of them going to university. Even if university education was free, for those choosing to study full time, the opportunity cost versus full-time employment income is significant.
Of course, there is increasing pressure these days to have a degree for almost any job and yet the jobs don't seem to be out there. If you do have a job, tenure is much less secure than it was in our career heydays and, if you don't have a full-time, permanent job, banks are increasingly wary of lending.
Fewer people have the capacity to buy because proportionally more people are earning less, without job security, stretching the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots". So is it our economic model and policies that are the real cause of the problems for the younger generation, rather than just the baby boomer generation?
Could income disparity and job security be fuelling poor housing affordability in major metropolitan areas, because that's where "big" jobs are?
There are lots of statistics floating around about housing affordability, including the one that says Sydney house prices in the 1970s were roughly four times average annual earnings, and now they're around twelve times average annual earnings. That is an awful statistic but I suspect one needs to look a little closer -- averages can be very deceptive and don't make comparisons of the type of housing, the location etc.
Could income disparity and job security be fuelling poor housing affordability in major metropolitan areas, because that's where "big" jobs are? The availability of more housing could be a logical solution to the affordability issue if land and sites were available, but I still question our expectations of what to buy and where.
It might be near impossible to purchase a house in an inner suburb of a capital city, but what about all those one-bedroom units which are experiencing price pressure due to a glut? Why are single people not purchasing those? Is it because developers have taught us to 'need' a four-bedroom, two-bathroom, freestanding property (after all, the bigger the house the more profit margin for them).
It is also easy to blame housing prices on domestic and foreign investors, but perhaps that is too simplistic; there are safeguards in place to limit the impact of foreign investors. Foreigners generally need to apply for foreign investment approval before purchasing residential real estate in Australia. The Government's policy is to channel foreign investment into new dwellings, rather than existing, as this creates additional jobs in the construction industry and helps support economic growth.
What's the solution? I don't know, but from where I sit it comes back to economic policy positions across a number of areas -- we need encouragement of more permanent, full-time employment (for youth in particular), more public housing, regional development including infrastructure and employment incentives with local, state and federal governments working together.
Sadly, I am not seeing any of that happening, but please don't blame me.
Over the next few weeks The Huffington Post Australia will run a series of daily blogs on housing affordability called The Great Australian Nightmare.
Everyone from senior government ministers to first-home buyers will have their say on what we at HuffPost Australia consider one of the biggest issues facing Australia.
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