Young people we spoke to highlighted economic insecurity, unaffordable housing, student debt and insecure low paid work as significant contributors to their anxiety and stress. Many want a kinder, fairer economy and meaningful secure work.
In our survey, young people were asked to choose from a list of 18 worries and concerns. These were lifted from research into issues facing young people commissioned by the Ministry of Youth Development in 2010.
44% of survey respondents (461 people) chose ‘Lack of money, not enough to pay bills’ as a major concern. 50% of the survey respondents who identified as Māori chose this as a top concern, as did 43% of Pasifika respondents and 37% of survey respondents who identified as Pākehā. Demographic samples in all other ethnic groups were too small to be included in this analysis.
We know that median net wealth differs across ethnic groups. In 2015, the median Pākehā had an individual net worth of $114,000; median Asian $33,000; median Māori $23,000; and median Pasika person $12,000.
However, we also know that in 2015 young people (aged 15–24) had the lowest individual median net worth of any age group – just $1,000. Most young people have not yet accumulated assets, but do have debt - most commonly, student loan debt.
From the similarity of the responses across different ethnic groups reporting ‘Lack of money, not enough to pay bills’, we can infer that regardless of ethnicity, young people do not have enough money to feel safe or flourish.
“I am an 18 year old female who flats, works, and studies in Porirua. I sometimes struggle to cover my regular bills and expenses, however, the biggest financial blows come from necessary costs that occur irregularly. I have been putting off getting new glasses, which I need in order to effectively study and work, because it's $60 for an eye exam and a few hundred dollars more for the actual glasses. I’ve avoided the doctor because $56 for an initial check up, costs for medication and payment for follow ups = not eating properly for a couple weeks because the money has got to come from somewhere and it can't be taken from bill payments, which leaves food money as the sacrifice. Now the solution is obvious, right? I need more money, so all I have to do is work more… Wrong! I already study Monday - Thursday, and work after class Thursday - Saturday which is a contract of 18.5hrs at minimum wage (and I quite often work Sunday as well). Therefore, the only time available to work more is at night, which requires reliable transport to and from work at ungodly hours, which would be fine if I had a car. So get a car, right?... Nope, wrong again! That won't work because I don’t know how to drive and with nobody to teach me I would have to pay for lessons, which cost at least $75 through the AA, or one and a bit doctor's appointments for context.”
“Imagine now hundreds of young people all trying to figure out how to survive off of the change left over after paying for everything from the wage they've earnt at their minimum wage job that is squished in around studying full time, and abracadabra you now see the issue.” - Grace, 18, Female, Porirua
In the open-field survey question, “What would you like to see changed in New Zealand to support your happiness and wellbeing?” 201 respondents wrote answers that can be grouped under the heading ‘A fairer economy’. This includes comments that spoke to a desire for:
More financial freedom
Lower cost of living
An end to poverty
A more economically equal society
A better welfare system
‘A fairer economy’ was spoken about most often after the need for better mental health services and support (though it’s clear the two are interconnected).
“We need cheaper living costs, such as food, electricity, petrol, a home. People with student loans or debt struggle to pay these things.” Emily, 18, Female, Paraparaumu
A lot of young people expressed their dreams for a more economically equal society. Some suggested we can do this through tax.
“I want to see a more progressive tax system, that redistributes money from the wealthy and back to the poor. This will allow more relief for hard working, but ultimately poor, families and individuals.” - Josh, 24, Male, Dunedin
Others would like to see this happen through better wages and jobs.
“Everyone should have a living wage and job opportunities for all different kinds of people including differently-abled and mentally-unwell individuals. There needs to be a focus on community-led development and empowerment.
“There should be education opportunities in many equally-valued forms such as apprenticeships, diplomas or social enterprise training instead of our cultural obsession with academic tertiary study. Ideally, there should also be a smaller socio-economic gap and more investment into preserving our environment.” - Maddy, 22, Auckland
“Make new jobs creating things that don't harm the planet.” - Anon, 12, Female, Pakuranga
Others thought it could be achieved through a more generous welfare system, and an end to punitive policies and behaviours toward the poorest among us.
“Stop welfare shaming, stop systemic racism, better support for ex prisoners. Civics education, safe spaces for gender minorities and queer people, people of colour, women and disabled people. Support for my friends and my community that are struggling.” - Teri, 20, Female, Wellington
“Better and more well-rounded social welfare and services that support all people in need.” - Therese, 23, Female, Canterbury
We interviewed Victoria Trow, Support Manager at Rainow Youth and she added this:
“Because I work in the rainbow sphere, the wellbeing issues I see are very specific to the marginalisation and discrimination against queer, gender diverse and intersex young people. Many of them do not not feel safe to access the services they need.”
“I talk regularly with a young trans woman who is struggling with accessing the benefit but shes scared of going to [name of social service omitted] because they misgendered her last time she went in and it was very traumatic.”
“A lot of the young people we talk to have unstable housing situations and trouble accessing the benefit because employment for them is difficult.”
A desire for ‘Accessible, affordable and secure housing’ also ranked highly among survey participants in two of the open-field questions. 212 participants wrote comments that were coded under this field.
“We should change the housing prices so that more New Zealand families have a roof over them and can feel joy in with their kids and can have a better life child or adult.” - Anon, 12, Female, West Auckland
Some young people were concerned about home ownership.
“I think the biggest concern facing young people is getting a stable income and saving enough for a mortgage on a house.” - Caleb, 20, Male, Palmerston North
Some felt they had inherited a raw deal from generations before them.
“Young people have to figure out how we deal with the mess we have inherited. How do we ensure quality of life for everyone, pay for people not saving for retirement, and ensure everyone has secure affordable, reasonable, housing in appropriate areas?” - Callum, 20, Male, Wellington
Others noted that the cost of living and rents are increasing but salaries are not.
“Rising living and housing costs are not necessarily being matched by openings or increased salaries in the job market.” - Theo, 22, Male, Wellington
Some expressed a view that if home ownership is impossible, then renting needs to be better.
“I will never own a house - and renting sucks. If renting wasn't so terrible, the fact I will never own a house wouldn't bother me so much.” - Anon, 22, Female, Wellington
“We should have affordable housing – not necessarily buying however we need to restructure renter’s and landlord’s rights.” - Maddy, 22, Auckland
“As a renter in Auckland money can be a real issue and the lack thereof is detrimental to my peace-of-mind as I find it hard to believe that I will ever be able to own a home in the future. Changing this is not as simple as having a wage increase as taxes, housing and amenities all increase in price faster than the pay increases. To have a house for my future family seems like an unattainable dream if I am to remain in Auckland. The choice at hand is either family and friends or permanent renting. I would like see this changed and would be happier day-to-day if this were a reality.” - Anon, 22, Male, Mt Roskill
Others identified debt, particularly student debt, as a source of stress, anxiety and unfairness.
“I think young people need more volunteering opportunities - ways to help less fortunate people in New Zealand and the rest of the world. We should promote these within schools a lot more. Another thing would be to decrease the cost for university so students don't start adult life already in massive debt.” - Anon, 17, Female, Christchurch
“We should make housing cheaper. The first year of uni being free is a great step in the right direction and affordable housing would have a similar result. A lot of problems people face are always to do with money. When we are able to afford homes and have cheaper education etc it means less time is spent in debt and in a hard place. This would increase the happiness and wellbeing of our communities.” Emily, 16, Female, Mt Eden
“A good life for me would be being accepted fully in my community and work life and not constantly stressing about money and debt.” - Mars, 16, Gender Diverse, Blenheim
The survey responses made it clear that many young people want to enter fulfilling careers in supportive workplaces with work-life balance.
Comments in relation to ‘fulfilling career, stable income, career opportunities, work-life balance’ were made by 58% of survey respondents (610 people).
“I would like to see secure, well-paid and meaningful job opportunities in a variety of sectors - so that I can be sure I will find work which I feel is meaningful and which I feel valued in.” - Chennoah, 24, Female, Wellington
“I would like to be comfortable economically, have time to spend outside in nature, doing a job/anything that makes me feel happy and valued.” Anon, 16, Female, Oratia
“Financial security and a good career, surrounded by people who can help me learn more about the things that go on around me.” - Oskar, 19, Male, Chartwell
One of the academic researchers we interviewed had this to say about the economic insecurity young people face:
“The levels of inequalities in society are very deep seated and very systemic inequalities that are perpetuated, reinforced and reproduced through all sorts of different structures, whether it's institutional, whether it's compounding intergenerational poverty, and so on. The only way forward I can see is a very deep seated long-term approach. It won't be fixed in the short term.”
“I take an intergenerational approach to researching how economic inequality compares between families. Privileges are often hidden in New Zealand to intergenerational wealth transfers and support that some other families don't have.”
“What it would take to really fix this would require a very deep seated attempt to redistribute levels of wealth, which would take a very bold government because it probably related to things like tax structures.”