Negotiating adulthood in the 21st Century, young Australians in their early 20s face a unique set of threats their parents and grandparents simply could not conceive of.
In September, Australia entered its 28th year of continuous economic growth but youth unemployment remains high and more than double the rate of overall unemployment. It’s the emergent threat of youth underemployment, however, that shows how the linear path to adulthood has shifted for many more young people, and pathways have become ever more uncertain.
In 2018, young Australians are far more likely to work part-time than 40 years ago. It is estimated that in October 2018 more than 550,000 young people aged 20 to 24 are working part-time. And, notably, this change is not because they are studying full-time. Indeed, in October 2018 more than one in three employed young women and around one in five young employed men, aged 20 to 24, who were not in full time education were working in part-time jobs. This equates to more than 260,000 young people who are not full-time students, are employed but only have part-time jobs.
This suggests a powerful reshaping of Australia’s youth labour market over the past four decades, accelerated by the economic downturns in the 1990s and, more recently, during the 2008 global financial crisis. The long-term shift away from stable, full-time employment and into part-time work ushers in a disturbing era of insecurity for Australia’s emerging generation: for tens of thousands of young Australians, their first ‘real’ job is likely to be a survival job—and a part-time one at that.
The lack of working hours and good stable jobs early in adult life can lead to economic insecurity in the short term, and fewer opportunities for economic and social advancement in the long term, as workers are unable to gain the experience and build the skills necessary for fruitful, productive working lives.