I wrote an Opinion Piece with the above title for the NZ Herald this week. It is available here: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/robert-macculloch-politicians-have-sucked-the-life-out-of-young-new-zealanders/JPZD6V7IIJJDM6KSDUUOSWMHK4/ or if you are not a subscriber to that paper, below:
Although we “returned” to the university campus this past semester, students are reluctant to physically attend classes. They can’t see a future. Their mojo & buzz are gone. Despondency rules. One student said she’ll never know what opportunities may have arisen these past years & what doors may have opened had nearly her entire course not been on Zoom. Many say they want to leave NZ after graduating for foreign climes offering higher pay and lower living costs.
What did the government do to them? How did it manage to suck the oxygen out of the air they breathe? An answer has now emerged. It took away their dreams.
Trends in Well-being NZ reports, “Loneliness is highest among people aged 15-24 … Teen suicide rates are among the worst in the OECD. Cognitive skills at age 15 are in decline. Levels of school attendance are declining and particularly low among those in more-deprived areas. We have the highest rate of bullying in the OECD ... People aged under 25 are least likely to report a high sense of belonging … least likely to report life is worthwhile and less likely to vote than young people in other OECD countries". What a shocker. So much for the “well-being budgets”.
The proportion of people with high levels of psychological distress increased by far the most for 15-24 year olds between 2020 and 2021. It stands at record levels, rising from 5% in 2012 to nearly 20% in 2021. By contrast, for over 55 year olds, distress has fallen these past years to just 5% today. New Zealand has become a country for oldies to enjoy whilst the young silently drown.
There’s more evidence of our youth’s angst. National now polls better than Labour for voters under 40, an incredible turnaround for the PM. Gone are the days when the young embraced her. Their concerns about saving the world from itself have given way to anxiety about personal survival. How did it come to this?
For starters, NZ’s virus policies, which included stringent lock-downs for everyone, regardless of age, were primarily designed for the benefit of the elderly. The Lancet Medical Journal reports that the fraction of people infected with Coronavirus who died after contracting the disease in the pre-vaccination era was 124 times higher for 65 year olds compared to 20 year olds. For 75 year olds it was 350 times higher.
What’s more, the Reserve Bank’s $52 billion money-printing programme during the pandemic favoured the asset-rich elderly. It inflated their wealth by increasing the value of their property and shares, crushing the young’s dream of home-ownership.
Our health-care system, which mainly exists for the benefit of oldies, as well as pensions, are being supported by the working young. Most of the 2022 Budget “boost” for health will be swallowed up by a black-hole called “administration costs”. The left-overs won’t remotely meet the additional demands arising from the ageing population. The present non-reforms don’t lower costs. More competition in service supply is needed for that aim, for which there is no plan.
In addition to these social welfare schemes, the young are also paying for virus-related corporate subsidies which have propped up big businesses, like Fletchers. The result has been a one-two knock-out punch. One. The quality of their education was thrown under a bus by other budget priorities. Two. They’ve been robbed of income, since their cost-of-living-adjusted wages are dropping at the same time that inflation is “creeping” them into higher tax brackets.
Most students are hard up, but on the way up. They don’t want to live off the State. They want to be successful. Independent. Yet rewards for achievement don’t figure in our politics. Instead, it is dominated by David Parker-style talk about the evils of inequality between the top 1% and bottom 1%, as if the 98% don’t exist.
There’s no guarantee a top student can even land a good job in NZ anymore. Why? When it comes to public-sector positions in Wellington, a poorly qualified, expanding class of working-at-home, over-paid managers who know how to “play politics” are cynically taking advantage of our best young graduates. They’re being used as “analysts” to do the hard, technical work which the managers can’t do themselves.
As for corporate jobs, there are only a few big Kiwi companies from which to choose for graduates. A booming group of NZX firms offering interesting jobs doesn’t exist.
Where can our students go to party? Not Queen Street where they’ll probably be beaten up, provided it isn’t closed. In this world of fear and “caution” - a word frequently used by the PM - it’s better to lock yourself up in your house, not go out and not take risks. The problem is that students mostly live in small rentals.
This article is no ad for the National Party, which has no plan for youth either, other than “bring-back-the-Key-years”. Where do young Kiwis fit into that model - one built on foreign tourists, immigration and a property bubble? How dare the Nats attack Labour on productivity, when it barely rose during their 9 years in power.
So all told, the unwillingness to vote of young, ambitious, non-work-shy Kiwis, except with their feet to leave the country, is not hard to explain.