“I want them to feel the same excitement about adulthood as we did rather than doom and gloom about climate change and the never-ending pandemic.”
OPINION:Thirty-years ago, I entered the workforce with a BA honours, a journalism diploma, and very little debt. I was able to complete my tertiary education for free until 1990, when student loans were introduced. I didn’t have one.
My journalism job is at The Dominion (Wellington’s morning newspaper back then), I paid about $60 a week in rent for a room in a warm, tidy house near Cuba St. Rent was affordable – around 15% of my weekly wage – and it was simple to walk into a flat to sign a lease. Because we Gen Xers believed it was our birthright to own a home, renting was temporary.
I was enthusiastic and excited to be a 20 year old, and embrace the exciting transition to adulthood. I knew I was a woman but I felt like anything was possible.
New Zealand was embracing the neoliberalist economic, social, and political policies of the 1980s, 1990s. It was everyone for themselves, when benefits were slashed and state assets were sold off and capitalism was the new king. New Zealand was beautiful, but it felt like a backwater to a 20 year old, while the rest felt exciting, promising, and progressive.
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We were feminists. I was Ms. and would keep my surname if we married. Most of the female journalists with whom I worked were feminists. The DominionThey were hardworking and fiesty. They did not speak about their children if they had them. The state did not pay them for taking the time to care for their newborns.
My flat was mostly vegetarian. We also ate meat every week. Old cars, which guzzled gasoline and leaked oil onto the roads, were our daily companions. We were aware of global warming, as it was known in the 1990s. However, we didn’t worry too much about it. Our concerns were HIV and a nuclear explosion, as well as paying exorbitant phone bills at home.
I began planning my overseas trip. Where could I go and what could be done?
I was comparing my approach to life and the world as a 22-year-old in 1992 when I wandered around my daughter’s graduate design exhibition at Massey University last week, looking at all the projects with an environmental or public good focus, including her plant-based food bag concept.
She is 21-years-old and socially conscious. She is smart, caring, and compassionate. She became vegetarian one year ago out of concern about the environment and animal rights.
Gen Zers are concerned about climate change and everything else: gender politics, body positivity and friends with mental health issues. They are also concerned about their debt. Since 1992, I graduated. More than 1.37 million students have borrowed student loansOn average, $23,307 in debt was accumulated.
They worry a lot, and I wish they didn’t.
One is about where to be – today. Only 64 percent of households own their homesThis is compared to 75% in 1992.
My daughter, along with her friends, has been trudging around Wellington, armed with references, asking property managers to let her rent a house or flat. Her room in one flat cost $220 per week. It was also colder inside than outside, and her bedroom walls were covered by mould.
The good news is that she will be paid parental leave if she has a child. She will also get flexible working hours and a boss who cares about the welfare of her baby.
Her generation is the cohort that I feel the most for when I think about Covid. They are very community-minded, so I haven’t heard many grumbles. I want them to feel the excitement of adulthood like we did. Doom and gloom over climate changeThe pandemic that never ends.
I want them to travel the world and discover themselves as we did. I worry that they will have to pay the bills from Covid lockdowns, just like we did with climate change.
Nobody is perfect. They spend too much time on smartphones and probably grumble about hard work more than we did. But it feels like the future looks bright.