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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Mostafa Rachwani

Young Australians forgoing necessities as cost-of-living crisis deepens wealth divide

Young woman in lounge room
Allyssa Ablon is among the thousands of young Australians at the forefront of the cost-of-living crisis. ‘There isn’t a way to improve my circumstances without money,’ she says. Photograph: David Kelly/The Guardian

Allyssa Ablon suspected other young people like herself were struggling – but the hundreds of comments on her TikTok post confirmed it.

In the post, Ablon listed all the essential items she had cut because of the cost-of-living crisis. More than 800 people replied, detailing what they had been forced to give up.

“It shows it’s affecting everyone, it’s actually not just me,” she says.

Ablon listed fresh food and medicines as essentials she had to give up to cope financially. She even cut out lunch: “Three meals a day? What am I, a millionaire?”

The 28-year-old is among the thousands of young people across Australia who are at the forefront of the cost-of-living crisis, without the safety nets of property ownership or inherited wealth, having to weather huge rises in the prices of goods and services.

Chronically ill and unable to work, Ablon says she feels without hope.

“I don’t see how there’s any hope for people, especially young people, to get to a better place where we’re living instead of surviving,” she says.

“We used to say Australians get a fair go and it’s absolutely laughable to me now, because for me there isn’t a way to improve my circumstances without money.

“I can’t pay for therapies, treatments or medications, all things that could improve my functional capacity, and it leaves me in a vicious cycle.”

Young woman standing in window of lounge room
Allyssa Ablon: ‘I don’t see how there’s any hope for people, especially young people, to get to a better place where we’re living instead of surviving.’ Photograph: David Kelly/The Guardian

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that although annual inflation eased to 4.9% in July from its peak, living costs and rents have risen sharply over the past year.

In the year to June across the country, the cost of food overall rose 7.5% including a 15.2% rise in dairy products and an 11.6% increase in bread and cereal products. Rents were up 6.7%, insurance was up 14.2% and utility prices rose between 12% and 14%.

It all adds up to more expensive living for everyone, but it has been hitting younger people particularly hard as many have to balance precarious housing and rising rents, full-time study and lower-paid jobs or unpaid placements.

Like Ablon, many have taken to TikTok to list the things they have eliminated. Items including new clothes, fresh fruit and toiletries are common.

Bailey Riley, president of the National Union of Students, says young people have also been forgoing socialising to stay afloat.

“Students just can’t afford to go out for coffee or for drinks with friends any more,” she says. “Paying over $10 for a drink is just out of reach for people.

“It’s definitely the social aspects that go first.”

Riley says this has begun to affect the social and mental wellbeing of young people.

“Students haven’t been able to stay after class to hang with friends or to attend events because they just can’t afford it,” she says.

“It’s harder for them to get out of the house and do anything enjoyable.”

Riley says a key pressure is rising rents, which have hit record highs in the past 12 months. This meant students have had to take up more work shifts or even cut some subjects to keep up.

“Especially for those who are in hospitality or retail– they need those extra hours to survive and pay their rent.

“It just creates a cycle where people can only work or study, they can’t have a social life or anything outside of that and have no means of dealing with the stresses of trying to keep up.”

A recent survey from the New South Wales Council of Social Services painted a similar picture, with 74% of people aged 25 to 34reporting housing stress. Almost half of that cohort were struggling to pay bills and about a third, along with a similar number of people aged 18 to 24, said they could not pay their rent or mortgage on time.

The council’s chief executive, Joanna Quilty, says housing costs are taking up a huge chunk of the money young people earn.

“Home ownership is usually a good buffer against some of these issues but for many young people that is simply unattainable,” Quilty says.

“When you’re in the private rental market … that really fundamental need for safe, secure housing is not there and has enormous flow-on effects.

“It is becoming much harder for young people to independently set themselves up for that secure future and I think that is going to create widening inequality.”

Finder’s consumer sentiment tracker illustrates how this intergenerational divide is being felt amid the cost-of-living crisis. The data from earlier this year showed that about 90% of gen Zs and millennials had reduced their spending in the prior 12 months, compared with 59% of baby boomers.

Jane Body, general manager of youth advocacy organisation Think Forward, says while it is not unusual for a cost-of-living crisis to hit younger people harder, the current wealth divide is “unprecedented”.

“That accumulation of wealth by older generations will continue because young people are just locked out,” Body says.

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