A revealing new report shows how the crisis of capitalism is robbing an entire generation of its future, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has deepened and exacerbated the system’s senile decay.
The Financial Times is currently running a series on the problems faced by under-35s across the world. The picture painted by their latest entry – “We are drowning in insecurity”: Young people and life after the pandemic – is one of almost universal anger and resentment.
Young people are realising that, no matter how hard they work, in the absence of inherited wealth or a miracle, they will never achieve the stability and economic security that previous generations took for granted.
Crisis is all we’ve known
The so-called millennial generation – and following them, Generation Z – entered adult life during the financial crisis of 2008, and have known nothing but economic crisis.
Some of the youth’s most pressing concerns, as outlined by the Financial Times, include: massive debts; the exorbitant cost of housing; the scarcity and competitiveness of jobs (with long hours and temporary contracts being the norm); the ongoing climate crisis; and the overall feeling that life will be worse for them and their children compared to their parents.
This sentiment is captured by the words of Tom, a young architect interviewed by the FT:
“Most people my age are paddling so hard just to stay still… It’s exhausting — nobody is asking for an easy ride, but all my friends have worked so hard all their lives, and many are losing faith in the system.”
This sense of hopelessness is a recurring motif, with other comments including: “We are drowning in insecurity with no help in sight”; and, “I sometimes have this feeling that we are edging towards a precipice, or falling in it already.”
A precarious generation
These concerns were widespread even before COVID-19. While the representatives of capital have been celebrating a certain economic recovery (or at least, less of a decline than they expected in the advanced capitalist countries), the young are not feeling the benefit. On the contrary, things are worse than ever.
For example, in Britain, those under the age of 35 accounted for almost 80 percent of jobs lost in the past year. Now, the unemployment rate for young people is basically stagnant compared to the last quarter (14.3 percent compared to 14.2 percent). It is at its highest point since 2016, representing the destruction of around 300,000 jobs since the start of the pandemic.
Needless to say, the situation is far worse in poorer countries – many of which are facing new waves of the coronavirus, with few people vaccinated. This necessitates new lockdowns, which will be devastating for millions of young people, particularly those who rely on the informal job sector.
The effects of this youth unemployment can clearly be seen elsewhere. Aside from increasing poverty and food insecurity (especially in the Americas, Indian subcontinent and Africa), young people are turning to desperate and degrading means to support themselves.
For example, the online platform OnlyFans – which allows (predominantly younger) users to share pornographic images and videos of themselves to subscribers – has seen its profits surge during the pandemic, with transactions increasing seven-fold to £1.7bn.
Obviously, being stuck at home without work during lockdowns has made this seem like a viable option for young people who have few alternatives.
This trend of young people selling their bodies to make ends meet preceded the pandemic. Between 2017-19, the number of students in the UK turning to prostitution, stripping and pornography doubled.
The fact that millions of young people are opting for this kind of dangerous and dehumanising activity is a damning indictment of capitalism and its ability to provide for people.
The Financial Times report emphasised young people’s sense of failure at being worse-off than their parents, which is now a longstanding trend.
The study finds that 62 percent of adult workers in Italy and 64 percent in France feel like they are less likely than their parents to have a secure job. This is evidence of the increasing erosion of the job market and workers’ rights over decades of capitalist decline.
This pessimism also coincides with the rise of temporary and zero-hour contracts, which are particularly prevalent for young people in the Eurozone. Almost half of working 15-to-24-year-olds in Europe were in temporary jobs on the eve of the pandemic.
The report finds that in Canada, France, Italy, Spain, and the UK, the employment rate for young people hadn’t even recovered to the pre-recession levels even before the pandemic struck.
With jobs so scarce, young people often have no choice but to accept exploitative contracts and working conditions.
And bogus self-employment in the gig economy and zero-hour contracts offer no rights for workers, whilst freeing employers from the burden of providing sick pay, holiday pay, and regular hours.
Contracts like these have become the norm in the years following the 2008 financial crisis. They ultimately represent an attempt by the capitalists to maximise profits at the expense of predominantly young workers.
Of course, precariously employed youth faced the brunt of job losses during the pandemic.
For those in full-time work, the situation is not much better, due to skyrocketing living costs all over the world.
For instance, one report cites a Shanghai-based worker, who explains how house prices were climbing and working conditions worsening.
He also made reference to the exploitative ‘996’ system, which means working from 9am until 9pm, six days a week – a common practice in many of the big Chinese tech companies.
Chinese capitalist mogul, Jack Ma, is a big proponent of the 996 system, which he describes as a “blessing” for workers, as it stops them from slacking off. It certainly is a blessing for the bosses!
996 in China is driven by the same logic as temporary contracts in the UK and Europe: in order for capitalism to maintain its profits in a state of crisis, there must be a race to the bottom for workers when it comes to pay and conditions.
Exploitative working conditions and high cost of living are even resulting in the untimely death of Chinese youth, as was the fate of Chen Songyang, whose demise from starvation caused an outpouring of grief and rage earlier this year.
Young people surveyed in the article also discuss their fears over political rot and instability in their countries, as well as a crisis in democracy. This is all evidence of the collapse of trust in the political establishment, exacerbated by the latest crisis.
But far from surrendering to despair, young people have been at the forefront of recent struggles against the hated system, as we can see with recent movements in Latin America, for example.
The Financial Times report cites a young psychologist in Peru, who describes herself as “anxious and exhausted” by the political situation in her country, which is racked with cronyism and corruption.
The last five presidents have all been indicted for corruption, and four of them have been found to have received bribes from Odebrecht, the Brazilian public works company.
The recent victory of militant trade unionist Pedro Castillo in the presidential elections (a few weeks after this report was published) is symptomatic of the widespread anger amongst the Peruvian people against the capitalists, the multinationals, and the politicians that represent them.
Notably, Castillo pledged to tear up Peru’s rotten constitution, which was a key demand of the student protesters who launched anti-government demonstrations last year.
The Colombian youth are also prominent, alongside the working class and peasantry, in the on-going struggle against the reactionary Duque regime in Colombia. The regime was dealt a major blow by a victorious general strike to halt a new tax bill intended to make ordinary people pay for the coronavirus crisis.
The Financial Times only captures one side of the story: the hardships of the youth under the crisis-ridden capitalist system. But these hardships are also pushing them towards increasingly radical conclusions.
It is no accident that young people were on the frontlines of the international and insurrectionary Black Lives Matter movement last year, as well as the various revolutionary struggles that erupted throughout 2019, and which were only halted by the pandemic.
All across the world, the logic of capitalism, and its prioritisation of profit over all else, has thrown a new generation of young workers into precarity.
The working class was forced to pay for the 2008 crisis through austerity and spending cuts. Despite the capitalists trying to spend their way out of the hole in the short term, further cuts are being prepared down the line. And young people will inevitably bear the brunt of these attacks.
The only way to fundamentally solve this crisis is to overthrow the capitalist system itself, and replace it with a rationally planned economy, run democratically by the working class for the good of all of humanity, and not for profit.
A generation forged in capitalist crisis is waking up to this necessity like never before, and will inevitably enter the stage of history, alongside the rest of the working class, to fight for a better future.
Youth bear the brunt of the crisis of capitalism
The youth are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis, which is affecting all but the very top layers of society.
A recent Financial Times editorial and survey have highlighted the growing economic insecurity of middle-class under 35 year olds across Britain and the world. It describes a sense amongst millennials from comfortable backgrounds that “nothing is solid under their feet”.
Many of the survey respondents highlight skyrocketing rents, problems getting on the housing ladder, and job insecurity as key to the despondency and anxiety they feel about their life prospects.
Bear in mind, the FT survey sample was filled with young central bankers, architects, financiers, venture capitalists, computer programmers and other upper-strata ‘professionals’.
Some of the respondents reported economic success, but confessed to relying on the “bank of Mum and Dad” to get a leg up against the competition. This reflects the squeeze on living standards being felt by the entire young workforce.
If the professional middle layers are slipping down the social ladder in this economy, then working-class youth are plummeting.
Poorer workers suffer far more from housing insecurity. Because a larger proportion of their income goes on rent, they are left with no savings with which to put towards a deposit.
House prices and rents have been rising rapidly for the last decade. Meanwhile real wages have not budged since 2008, and in many sectors have been in decline.
In addition, over 3 million workers are stuck in insecure work, including zero hours contracts, a figure which is only rising. These factors are combining to force millions of young people to stay at home with their parents for longer.
Meanwhile, young people also bear the brunt of unemployment, with those aged under 35 accounting for 80% of the decline in jobs over the past year.
The FT makes the point that young people feel their standard of living is worse in terms of the essentials than for previous generations. This is a fact.
Housing and education are more expensive and of lower quality. And jobs are less secure and lower paid, with longer hours.
As one FT respondent said when asked if her standard of living was better than her parents: “I have a professional job and they didn’t. [But] In terms of . . . the full-belly feeling of knowing your children will have a better future than you? Not so much.”
For the working class, conditions are rapidly regressing towards Victorian conditions. Even before the pandemic, 680,000 children were reported to be living in slum housing.
And with the Tory government’s Kickstart youth scheme creating only 490 of the 250,000 jobs promised in the North East of England, there is little hope for salvation to come from Westminster.
More than ever, working-class youth have no prospects for a better life than the one they had leaving education. Even the highly educated middle layers are heading in the same direction. Indeed, the most likely prospect is a life worse than previous generations.
This development reflects the depth of the capitalist crisis we now face. For previous generations living through the post-war boom, the bosses were compelled to set aside some crumbs in the form of the welfare state. State measures helped provide council housing, job security, and free higher education.
These gains – won by the working class through struggle – helped ensure a semi-civilised level standard of living, at least for a period. But the prolonged upswing of capitalism that made these reforms possible has since come to an end.
Those who have entered the jobs market over the last 15 years have been left to fend for themselves or else rely on their parents. This has only deepened inequalities.
However, the present crisis is rooted in the system itself. To maximise profits the bosses are squeezing more value out of the workforce, by making a new generation work more intensely, for longer, and for less.
Because of this, even those layers who recently ascended into the middle class are being hurled back down to earth.
All of this rising insecurity and falling living standards will have revolutionary consequences in the future. A system that is unable to provide the majority with rising living standards stands condemned in the eyes of millions.
Indeed, we already have the wealth in society to secure quality housing, education, jobs and public services for all. But that wealth is just in the wrong hands.
A socialist programme would allow us to allocate wealth according to need rather than profit. Only this would ensure that today’s youth can have a better standard of living than those who have come before.
To end the crisis facing the youth, we must therefore end capitalism.
Youth services slashed by Tories: capitalism’s lost generation
David Zee, UEA Marxists
Capitalism never fully recovered from the 2008 financial crash. The feeble ‘recovery’ has been wiped in a heartbeat, despite all the hardship shouldered by the working class over the past decade of austerity.
Now with the worst economic collapse in the last 300 years upon us, the sickness of the system is most visible by looking at the situation facing the youth.
Even before COVID, the youth already had to endure the mental health crisis, floundering youth services, and an unaffordable housing market. Often the only work available for young people is in precarious, low-paid jobs. The crisis is pushing the youth into desperation.
We can see very clearly that all these problems were built up in the previous period, and have now come to the surface with a bang. The situation has gone from bad to considerably worse in the space of a year.
Austerity here to stay
Recently, the BBC reported a rise in youth unemployment to 5%, with young workers at the largest risk of losing their jobs. Redundancies have run rife. General insecurity has gripped young people either looking for work, or in work.
Despite the COVID flagship ‘Kickstart’ scheme aiming to create 250,000 jobs, the reality is far from this. In six months, fewer than 5,000 people have started their placements – typically on poor pay.
Young people are clearly not a priority, as the Tories have spent the entire pandemic lining the pockets of big business. Cronyism is first on their rotten agenda.
The unemployment figure hides a deeper malaise in the economy. With 4.5 million people currently on furlough, many more will find themselves on the scrapheap after lockdown ends.
Not to mention the fact that the costs of furlough will be put again onto the shoulders of the working class. Under capitalism, there is no such thing as a free lunch – today’s stimulus package is tomorrow’s austerity.
Youth’s dire situation
We have seen rabid attacks on youth services during the pandemic. Having already been cut close to the bone, the Guardian now reports that 83% of youth organisations have seen a decrease in funding due to COVID, despite a 66% increase in demand.
This comes at a time when funding for organisations that help develop life skills, encourage social life and engagement, and remedy the feelings of isolation is at its most important. Lamentably, the least assistance is given by those holding the purse strings.
In fact, 64% of youth organisations say they are at risk of closure in the next 12 months. Those that close may well do so permanently, making it all the harder for young people to access important services. The Tories are therefore pouring petrol on the fire, and the social consequences will be immense.
One such consequence is that of exacerbated mental health issues. Feelings of stability, empowerment, and contentment are vital to mental wellbeing. These feelings are hard to come by when forced into unemployment or precarious work, and an insecure, overcrowded housing market.
To make matters worse, there is the high possibility of local support organisations shutting down. As these issues continue to grow worse, mental health support receives less and less funding, with 8% year on year cuts since 2011.
Tragically, therefore, as the causes of the mental health crisis intensify, the means of solving them are rapidly diminishing. A perfect storm is being prepared.
Organise the fightback!
The best way to overcome feelings of powerlessness is through organised, militant struggle. The youth are by no means powerless, and need not take this lying down.
By educating and agitating for better conditions, and linking up with workers in struggle, the youth can play an important role in transforming society, so that it is run in the interests of the vast majority.
We must demand more – not just crumbs, but the whole bakery.
The only remedy for these problems that blight the youth is through rational socialist planning. We have the resources and capabilities to provide decent housing, high quality services, and ensure rewarding work for all. But these resources are currently in the wrong hands – those of the bankers and billionaires.
Only by ending the anarchy of capitalism, and the havoc it wreaks on the working class, can we end the dire situation of the youth.