Prime Minister Scott Morrison noncommittal on plan to help those hit hardest
The greatest burden of recessions always falls on the young for the simple reason that employers’ automatic response to a recession is to cancel their annual intake of school and university leavers. The deeper the recession, and the slower the recovery from it, the more years that entry-level hiring is postponed.
This was the case for many years after the global financial crisis of 2008 even though, for the rest of us, a recession was avoided.
You’ve heard that, unusually in this recession, the greatest burden has fallen on women rather than men. But this can be true while it remains true that the young are the greatest losers. That’s because a disproportionate share of the women is young.
As summarised for the summit by the independent economist Saul Eslake, recent research by Treasury has found that people who enter the jobs market for the first time during a recession are less likely to change jobs – which means they’re more likely to miss out on one of the main ways by which people get pay rises during their first 10 years in the workforce (that is, by changing jobs).
This matters because almost 80 per cent of lifetime wage rises occur during the first 10 years of someone’s working life. So the “scarring” effect of leaving education in a bad year lasts for 10 years.
Treasury finds that the scarring effect has been bigger since 2000 than it was in earlier recessions, so that the most recent generations of young people have been affected more than previous generations. And it’s worse for women than for men.
All this is consistent with the interim findings of a nationwide inquiry into youths’ transition from education to employment, which the National Youth Commission published on Monday. It finds that unemployment for 15- to 24-year-olds is consistently higher than for 25- to 64-year-olds. And that traditional pathways to employment for young people have eroded over the past couple of decades.
One thing that’s changed over the years is the growth of underemployment. To the present unemployment rate of 7.5 per cent and rising must be added the underemployment rate of 11.2 per cent, representing those who have some paid work but want more.
Just remember it’s the young who dominate the underemployed. Many of them have multiple jobs, but still can’t make ends meet. Many are in the “gig economy”, whom governments have allowed to be defined as “independent contractors”, thus permitting those wonderful innovative outfits that run app-based fast-food delivery and all the rest to sidestep the legal obligations of an employer.
Remember, too, that the seeming epidemic of “wage theft” – which, by their neglect, governments have done too much to allow and too little stamp out – would be perpetrated particularly on the young.
Unsurprisingly, the inquiry found the (pre-pandemic) levels of the youth allowance and unemployment benefits – which successive governments have frozen in real terms for 25 years – are inadequate. It’s the young who suffer most from this parsimony.
Morrison and his ministers have repeatedly defended the $40 a day by saying people are on the dole only temporarily before they find a job. That was certainly the reasonable expectation in the past. Now, however, it’s one of the respects in which the inquiry found the system no longer fit for purpose.
Another respect is, it’s no longer true that most jobs for young people are full-time. Only in the past month has the government temporarily changed the means test to encourage the unemployed to look for part-time jobs. Pity so few of them are on offer at the minute.
The youth commission has proposed a detailed “youth futures guarantee” laying out reforms and measures that would better support our young people in meeting the challenges they face. Challenged to respond to the proposal, Morrison was masterfully noncommittal.
Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.
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Ross Gittins is the Economics Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.