If there’s one thing you learn writing for the Guardian, it’s what people think. Oh, people just LOVE to tell you what they think. When you write an article for the Guardian website, part of the job is to pull on your hazmat suit and descend below the line, engage with the commenters, and maybe get into a debate or two.
Yes, it can be weird, scary and hilarious just how angry people get over all kinds of nothing. I sometimes wonder if there are people out there with lives so flawless, so porcelain perfect, so Disney-movie charming, that a joke on the Guardian about drop-crotch meggings really is the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. I feel for those people. Life is going to be so hard for them if they insist on keeping their Broadband connection.
This isn’t a post about trolls. This isn’t even a post about idiots. This is a post about comments I’ve read over and over when I’ve written about young people and unemployment, which has led me to believe that this is what many people actually think.
They’re wrong – and that’s ok, people are entitled to be wrong. But as the people they’re targeting, you’re also entitled to correct them. (Read: correct, not punch.)
So, let’s do a quick rundown of the top three myths about young people:
No. 3: Once young people clear the “getting their first job” hurdle, they’ll be fine
I hate to correct this one, because I used to believe it. Once you get a job, you’re one of The Employed. You get a desk, a salary, you latch on to a mug you irrationally feel is yours, and life is dandy from here on out.
Well, unfortunately, that’s not true. One of the trickiest problems for the younger generation is UNDER-employment. Jobs that are most readily available for young people tend to be short-term, part-time, and with the greatest risk of being laid off. Maternity leave cover, internships, projects that can and will only last six months.
Yet the myth that the “first hurdle” is also the last makes every new redundancy or simple end to a contract feel like a fresh failure. “I’m jobless AGAIN”, rather than “I worked on a project, how marvellous, my CV is looking plumper already. I will celebrate with an overpriced beverage. Where can I get one? Oh that’s right, everywhere.”
Another under-reported effect of this system of peak-and-trough employment is where our savings go. When you save, you’re not doing it for a holiday or a deposit on a flat, you’re saving for your next stint of unemployment.
No. 2: Young people are jobless because they’re picky
I’ve blown my top about this one in print, online, on camera and on the radio, so I’ll try to restrain myself from blasting you all with the “job snobs” argument again…BUT COME ON! Job snobs! That’s what they call us! JOB SNOBS. Ooh, it rhymes, so it must be true. Yeah – it rhymes so that Daily Mail readers can remember how to pronounce it. They get their news in nursery rhymes.
Contrary to ignorant opinion, young people are not jobless because they’re too choosy. Yes, jobs in creative industries like fashion, journalism and PR are scarce, but “lowly” jobs like coffee shop barista and supermarket workers are like friggin’ gold dust. A branch of Costa Coffee in Mapperley, Nottingham received 1,701 applications for eight positions. And before you ask, no, it was not a special Costa with a £1000 weekly bonus for the “best team player”. Nor was the Asda in Sheffield, which received over 2,500 applications for 300 positions, a magical Asda that was managed by One Direction with a free bar for staff. It was just an Asda, offering jobs.
I do feel sorry for the graduate who thought he’d be working his way up in a career he chose, studied his way into debt for, and now finds himself working in Asda. Everyone in his life system told him exams, degrees and massive debt was the way to get where he wanted to be; he put in the work, and now they call him a snob for thinking it would pay off.
But do you know who else I feel sorry for? The guy who didn’t go to university, because he never wanted to be a journalist or an engineer or an executive. He just wanted a job. And now, the jobs he’s qualified for are being taken up by people who wish they were somewhere else.
Graduates aren’t picky. They’re desperate, they’re angry, and they’re making your coffee, so be nice because it’s 4pm and the decaf looks really similar to the double caff…
No 1: Young people would be fine if they would just vote
By far the most popular way to throw the blame back onto the unemployed young people: we don’t vote, and old people do. That’s why they get looked after and we don’t.
This argument has never sat right with me. I kept picturing every single young person storming out to vote, and still I couldn’t see politicians crapping their fancy pants and calling off the war they’ve so discreetly declared on our generation.
I’m sorry to say my suspicions were confirmed. While listening to BBC Analysis (as you do), these words smacked me in the fury bone: “A recent study by the Intergenerational Foundation found that even if every person voted from the age of 18, they wouldn’t become electorally decisive for 30 years.”
What this means, soldiers, is voting – as a way to change things for your demographic – is PROVABLY pointless. It’s still an exercise of your democratic rights, but unlike the almighty boomer generation, you’ll get nothing specific to your needs in return.
That’s the problem with democracy: the people in power are supposed to be running the country, treating people as equals in society – but it’s still just posh boys doing favours for their mates.
Maybe my and Russell Brand’s repeated calls for revolution aren’t really the answer. Maybe there’s only one thing for it, young people. We have to do the unthinkable.
We have to make friends with the government.