What does Australia’s rapid population growth mean for iGens?

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Ben Robinson studies the recent rapid rise in Australia’s population and explores the challenges this poses for young people.

Everyone in the world knows that Australia is a big country, but the size of our population has never come close to matching the size of the land we live on – until now. As our population steadily grows by about 1.03% per year, which is more than the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and China, alarm bells have started ringing in the ears of millennials and iGens.

Including birth rates, death rates, and immigration rates, the Australian population increases by one person every 86 seconds. In 1997, it was believed that it would take until 2050 for our population to cross the 25 million mark. Currently, it’s March 2018 and we’re already sitting at around 24,855,000. By 2060, we’re likely to exceed 40 million. Because we aren’t building new cities and towns to meet population demands, this poses a real threat for today’s young Australians chance to thrive in the modern world.

For a long time, population growth was a target for the Australian government. After the end of the Second World War, Prime Ministers Robert Menzies and Harold Holt began relaxing the White Australia policy. The post-war immigration scheme of the 1940’s and 1950’s was crucial to Australia’s development as a leading nation, because a strong population boosts economic growth. The more people there are, the more jobs are created. The more jobs there are, the more revenue the government earns from taxes, which funds infrastructure projects like houses and roads and buildings. Even after the Vietnam War in the 1970’s, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser welcomed 200,000 migrants over a seven-year period. But although this immigration boost gave a massive kick to the Australian economy and created the culturally diverse Australia we know today, the growth of our cities and towns simply couldn’t keep up. The population spike has made a hopeless charade of the jobs sector, a dogfight out of our housing market, and turned education into a dangerous tight-rope walk.

As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald in March 2017, underemployment of young people is the worst it’s been in 40 years. Underemployment is when people have a job but aren’t working enough hours (usually in a part-time role), and this accounts for nearly 20% of Australians aged between 15-24. Granted, this cannot be blamed solely on population growth. However, in 2017, part-time jobs grew faster than full-time jobs with the former growing at 67% and the latter growing at only 27%, which means the 1.5 million part-timers are gaining momentum on the 1.8 million full-timers. Since 2000, the number of part-time workers has increased from 26% to 32%, which coincides with the country’s rapid population growth. More people competing for jobs in a market where the supply doesn’t meet the demand causes the system to change, and Australia is moving towards a part-time economy. This in itself isn’t too scary – plenty of people survive on part-time salaries – but it will have a big effect on other things, like housing.

It’s no secret – Australia’s housing market is in a sad state. Unless you’re earning big bucks or can accept a generous investment from the Mum & Dad Banking Co., it’s near hopeless for young people to jump on the property ladder. Although there are other factors contributing to high housing prices (negative gearing, overseas investors - the list goes on), its recent ballooning can be explained in very much the same way as the job market. The four most volatile housing markets are Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. They are also the four main cities immigrants choose to move to; in ten years, Melbourne’s population went up by one million, Sydney by 800,000, and both Brisbane and Perth by nearly 500,000. This causes a huge surge in demand for a house, but it wasn’t met with an equal increase in housing, which has driven housing prices sky high. The average price of a house in Sydney according to Domain is over $1.1 million. Melbourne? $903,000. This means it takes a couple in Sydney (on an average income of around $80,000 a year) an average of 8.2 years to save for a house deposit, and 6.4 years in Melbourne. But let’s say you do survive on a part-time salary and you do manage to buy a house, it’s difficult to achieve without an education-of-sorts, be a university degree or apprenticeship.

Of course, the increase of population has not only taken a swing at jobs and housing, it’s also impacting the education system in an unignorably massive way. According to the Grattan Institute, every state is in dire need of more schools simply to accommodate all the young people. The public policy think-tank estimates that within 10 years, Victoria needs 220 new schools, New South Wales needs 213, Queensland needs 197, Western Australia needs 72, and South Australia needs 35. In Victoria, 11 new schools are opening in 2018, with 45 others in the pipeline. When announcing the new schools earlier this year, the state’s Education Minister, James Merlino, said Victoria needs to accommodate, “90,000 additional student in the next five years… We need to keep that pace up, year after year, because this pressure is not going to stop.”

There are many things to blame for population growth. The post-war immigration scheme, the recent influx of the 21st century, rising birth-rates, or just baby boomers. But one thing is for certain – unless something changes, the young Australians of today and tomorrow will have the odds stacked against them in almost every way. Not only must somethings change, but they must change soon.

Ben Robinson is a first-year student of economics who wants to explain things to people for a living by making boring stuff sound interesting. He is currently obsessed with obscure psychedelic music from the 1960’s and he enjoys long walks on the beach, sunsets, and long walks on the beach at sunset.