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The growing pains of being a millennial, how money and mental health concerns are shaping a generation

Wales Online logo Wales Online 05/08/2018 Caitlin O'Sullivan

I live on my own, in a two room flat I rent, work a full time job, worked in a bar on weekends, I don’t smoke, drink (excessively), own a car, own a television, do drugs, or have gambling issues or debts. I’m a University graduate of two years.

A few months ago I went through a sticky patch. I hardly ate anything for three days.

At he start of the year people were asking how I lost so much weight over Christmas.

I jokingly responded: “Poverty.”

I lost two stone in two months, because all I could afford to eat was rice.

It was genuinely a debate some nights whether to eat or be warm, because my electricity was so expensive to run.

Often the metre would run out and then I’d have to wait a few days to afford to top it up, which meant no lots of dry shampoo.

At one point this month I had 59p in my bank account. I managed to find some old foreign currency from a past holiday and got it converted to tie me over.

The thing is, my situation is not unique.

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Recently criticism was raised over proposals to tax working pensioners to fund a grant for young people - or millennials - to access additional training or to contribute to a house deposit.

The Intergenerational Foundation found that there are 1.2 million people working over state pension age, who could generate an additional £1.5 billion of National Insurance revenue if they continued to contribute.

People said my generation were not working hard enough, were expecting handouts and were wasting their money on travel and expensive coffees and avocados!

They said we aren't savers, aren't planning for the future.

But for more people than you think planning for the future means trying to work out how to survive the week ahead financially.

A 2017 survey by the Varkley Foundation found that young British millennials have the second worst mental health wellbeing out of 20 countries assessed.

Only Japan fared worse, where the biggest killer of people aged 15 to 39 in Japan is suicide.

In February 2018, the Resolution Foundation reported that the “generational progress has stalled and could even be going into reverse” as the UK experiences its worst decade of pay growth in a hundred years.

The labour market employment rate for 30 year old millennials is 80%, however the median hourly earnings is £13, which is equal to that of the previous generation.

Generation X earned 36% more than the baby boomers, who also earned more than the silent generation.

This record of pay advancement has halted with the millennials, meaning that with inflation, young people are in a worse financial position than ever.

The squeeze of the recession also hit millennials hardest, because of the lack of pay growth at the point when pay usually increases the most.

The recession halted any chance of an increase.

In January this year it was reported that the annual pension income is likely to eclipse the average graduate starting salary for the first time ever.

Welsh student debt, as of 2017, reached £3.7 billion.

According to a survey by education charity Teach First, 53% of millennials stay in one career because they don’t want to start from scratch.

I myself have accumulated over £11,000 of debt having finished university two years ago.

But figures, reports and statistics don't pain the real pictures. These are the problems millennials, in our own words.

The graduate who can't find work

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Caitlin Flowers from Carmarthen has struggled since leaving university.

She graduated two years ago with an English Literature degree, and has been trying to find permanent work ever since.

She said: “If it wasn’t for my mum, I’d be in a horrible situation.

"Finding work has been hard, as many employers feel I’m ‘overqualified’ so I’ve only been able to get limited term contracts or part time work.

“In turn, it has taken a toll on my mental health, definitely.

"I’m in no position to be able to afford to move to a place that would have more opportunities for me, but there’s limited options around here that will accept me because they think I won’t stay for long.

“It’s definitely made me feel less prepared than I was when I first graduated.

“What is really making me struggle is the cost of petrol. Luckily I have my mum to help, but because there aren’t many people in Carmarthen hiring, I have to look further afield.

"In turn, because of that, I have to travel for interviews which then tell me I’m overqualified for their job, so it’s wasted petrol.

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“I’d love to be able to pay for some of the food at home and pay back my mum for what she does for me.

“I’m in a better position than many, but I still struggle because I can’t afford to help my mum at all and it makes me feel lazy even though I’m trying my hardest.

"It makes me feel worthless at times because I do hear how the generations above us had an easier time of finding a job and a house.

“Degrees are not worth as much as they were before, and sometimes I wonder why I got myself in massive student debt when most places won’t hire me because of it.”

“We owe pensioners respect for what they have done for us.

"But they do need to listen and understand that our generation is nothing like theirs, and what they could afford at our age is impossible now for us.

"We work hard to be able to afford even a little of what they could have easily gotten at our age, and I don’t feel like they understand that.

“Brexit definitely affected me. I worry that prices will only increase in the future."

The scrimping renter

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"I struggled financially early on when I tried to rent in Reading, I was paying £650 for a room in bad area.

"But I also gambled. Sometimes just to be able to afford my rent, but it was still completely my fault.

"I remember scrambling around my house, accumulating change to be able to afford some wagon wheels from the shop, which fed me for a couple of days.

"I lived on tips, and would go a couple days at a time without eating, drinking coke and coffee at work.

The problem doesn’t lie in a lack of money for younger people.

"If young people are struggling to get on the property ladder you can’t medicate that with money, you have to find the causes of the problem and eliminate them.

"Throwing money at the problem won’t solve it the problem is a lot of things together.

"I don’t believe there should be a younger people and older people generational split. Our opinions don’t matter any more than theirs. We don’t know that we’re right, we can’t see the future.

"We live in a democratic society, thank goodness, and they idea that someone matters more than another is ridiculous.

"I don’t think there are any worries in my life right now that don’t revolve around getting a real job and finding my feet there.

"I don’t worry about not being able to afford a house, because right now I’m concerned with finding a job, and being happy, and paying rent."

The skilled employee who can't come home

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Grant Morgans, a software developer from Carmarthen now lives and works in the Sheffield.

When asked whether that was due to the lack of work in Wales, he said: “Oh definitely, it’s part of the reason I’ve not moved back to Wales, as other than Cardiff there are very few jobs in the software industry throughout Wales.”

He added: “For me personally, I was lucky in that I had the opportunity to continue working for the company which I spent my placement year at, during my final year at university.

“However, keeping up with both roles was difficult often very time consuming which caused me to neglect my personal life and in turn often my mental health.

“I found it very stressful and it definitely had a knock on effect to my degree.

"In regards to the longevity of the job, I can’t say as I’m still trying to de-stress from it all.

"I have been happy in my job but I don’t feel safe in it as I’m still on the old part-time contract which hasn’t been renewed yet.

“Financially I have been lucky in the sense I’ve always had a job throughout my education which has paid above minimum wage, but it does concern me that the cost and debts attained throughout university will likely be something I will never pay off in my lifetime unless I progress to a very high role within my own industry.”

"I believe the state of the housing market is currently unsustainable with large companies often buying out several houses for renting with no intention of ever selling them.

“I do strongly believe that the voices of the young should be heard and considered more frequently by the older generations which is often not the case.

“But I don’t feel betrayed by older generations after the Brexit vote, as the whole country had an opportunity to decide and all had access to information publicly available.

“I’m most worried about the world becoming a single-minded place, where opinions are based on fake news, and people aren’t willing to find out the truth, especially in regards to social media.”

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The 24-year-old who had to settle for a job he didn't want

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Dann Emmons

Joel Emmons, 24, now works in Reading but has struggled to find a career or provide for himself on an hourly wage.

"After uni I moved back in with my dad, but I didn’t want to go back to being dependant on my parents. I wanted to be responsible for myself.

"I eventually moved out after getting a job in hospitality.

"Like a lot of people I was holding out for a job in my field.

"I was faced with that reality of finding a job that I’m going to be doing for at least the next five years, if not forever, and not being able to find a job in my field.

"I was left in a job I didn’t enjoy, earning almost nothing, and I’m afraid I’m going to be doing this forever.

"It’s not hard to find a job generally speaking, it’s hard to find a job that you want to do in your degree field.

"I’m in hospitality, and I was moved up to management, but I didn’t want a career in that.

"There can be pressure, entering into a new job or a relationship, wondering is this the one for the rest of my life, but that’s always something you have to face.

"I don’t think I’ve experienced mental health problems.

Of course I have the grind of not wanting to be in the industry I’m in, every day, and that builds up to a sense of failure, but I try to do other things on the side.

"My philosophy actually comes from a very, very old quote from Donald Trump, which is ‘the harder you work, the luckier you are’, and that’s what I try to do.

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"When I put my all into my work, it pays off. If I don’t have the energy to work hard, I feel like I’m losing.

"I can say all I want that I’m tired, or I don’t have time working 60 or 70 hours a week but it’s still my fault if I don’t work at my passion.

"I’d work so hard to overcome a problem, and the next day, it would be magically fixed through completely other means."

"The pay is never very good in hospitality.

"There is a theory that ancient Roman empire fell due to the degeneration of youth.

"People wanted to be celebrities or famous or popular more than they wanted to be nurses or blacksmiths.

"I think everyone sees their job as temporary until they get their ‘big break’ so young people aren’t progressing or earning more.

"We need to work really hard to get there, but we’re losing motivation.

"When you’re earning a grand a month and see someone on television whose job it is to sit and meet random attractive people on an island, you think that maybe you’re doing it wrong.

I can hardly provide for myself and get treated terribly by people. I’m in the service industry, I’m not your servant.

"I think the biggest mental problem young people have is that we’re waiting to have everything we want, and be satisfied with our lot, the job, house, wife, kids, but it doesn’t come from waiting, it’s hard work to get there."

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The young professional living with mam and dad

a woman wearing a hat and smiling at the camera © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Three years ago Katie Sands, 25, from Merthyr Tydfil landed a full-time job with WalesOnline after graduating from a postgraduate course at Cardiff University.

"I've been living with my parents for a couple of years back home in Merthyr and commute to work in Cardiff city centre every day.

"I'm very lucky to have generous and understanding folks who don't charge me rent (yet!) and my only real monthly outgoings are car-related - so a couple of hundred pounds on petrol, parking and, starting earlier this year, PCP payments on a new car.

"I suppose when you're younger, you assume you're going to be living independently once you have a steady job.

"But a lot of my friends from university are still living at home with their parents years after graduating, opting to stay at home and not kiss goodbye to hundreds of pounds of dead money per month in rent.

"If and when you do move out to escape the commute, or for whatever reason, you know that decision is going to push any chance of saving enough money for a house deposit back by a couple of years.

"While I would love to be in a position to have enough for a deposit for my own home, it doesn't keep me awake at night.

"I think a lot of people in the same boat just have a different set of priorities.

"Say I would have to have had £15,000 for a deposit, that would mean me having to save £5,000 a year over the three years I've had a full-time job.

"And commute, and enjoy a social life.

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"Maybe that's not completely unrealistic, but, to me, saving that stringently would mean missing out on lots of other things.

"I'm incredibly lucky enough to have enjoyed trips to Central and South America and New Zealand over the past two years.

"Both were three/four weeks jaunts, and they certainly took some saving and paying off after I returned home.

"If I had to choose between putting that money towards a house - which wouldn't be anywhere near enough for a deposit - or those trips, I know which one I'd choose.

"Having enough savings for a deposit seems like such a long-term goal, and even then you need to be in a position to actually save every month - choosing between this night out, that meal out with friends, a weekend away for a university reunion, etc. or missing out on all that to save.

"I think living at home with parents after university, in a lot of cases, is just the norm now.

"Of course, I'd like to live independently but the only way I'm going to be doing that any time soon is by moving out and renting.

"Being in a position to buy your own house and have a mortgage certainly comes at a later point now than in previous generations, unless you're with a partner and save together, or are very well off.

"But, as long as I have a job and have a roof over my head, there are bigger things to worry about.

"If I really wanted to have a deposit and a mortgage by now, I'm sure I could have - but I would just have had to miss out on a lot of other things.

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