When you think of a typical Australian millennial, what comes to mind? Perhaps the amount of time they spend posting endless selfies on Instagram or frittering money away on avocado toast instead of diligently saving for a house.
But not all millennials are spoiled and bratty as the stereotype often suggests.
Loads of millennials are doing it tough. A report by the Brotherhood of St Laurence from March 2017 found about one-third of Australian young people aged 15 – 24 years are underutilised (meaning either unemployed or underemployed) – the highest level of underutilisation for this age group in around 40 years.
If you add in the fact that single people on Youth Allowance or Newstart can barely find a property to live anywhere on the private rental market, you start to realise that the glossy images of self-sufficient and carefree millennials is a small part of a bigger picture.
“When we got to the house we had no furniture. My kids and I were sleeping on the floor with a couple of blankets. We had a little old bar fridge and that was it.”
So what does it mean to be a “poor” millennial?
Four months ago 25-year-old Talei* fled serious domestic violence with her three young children. In Australia, domestic violence is the main reason that women and children seek assistance from specialist homelessness services. “I came to Sydney from up north and stayed with my sister and her six children,” says Talei, who is originally from a Pacific island. A month after she arrived in Sydney, Talei found out her sister was being evicted from the private rental. “I had no idea my sister had issues,” she says. Talei had some savings and paid for all of them to stay at a motel, but her money quickly ran out.
Talei approached a local support service and was allocated a case manager. After a month or so she was allocated a house. “When we got to the house we had no furniture,” she says. “My kids and I were sleeping on the floor with a couple of blankets. We had a little old bar fridge and that was it.” Talei’s sister was settled in another house, but didn’t have any furnishings to spare.
It was the middle of winter and Talei felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. “I felt so bad for my kids,” she says. “I felt so sorry that I couldn’t give them everything they needed.”
Talei’s case manager referred her to the St Vincent de Paul Society, where another case manager provided her with items to furnish the house. “We got beds, a new fridge, a TV, linen, bedside tables and clothing racks,” says Talei. “I couldn’t stop crying because I honestly didn’t expect they would give us so much.”
“My rent comes straight out of my Centrelink payments and I pay my bills fortnightly. This has really taught me to budget and make my money last for two weeks.”
Starting life from scratch in an unfamiliar city was emotionally and practically difficult. “There are things you need to buy that you don’t even think about like, like a dustpan and broom and having to buy all the basics for your pantry,” Talei says. “OzHarvest drop food off for us every Monday, but it’s still difficult to make ends meet.”
Children under 15 in single-parent families are more than three times as likely to be in relative income poverty as those in two-parent families, and Talei knows how close she is to the poverty line. She receives parenting payment from the government but says it barely covers costs. “My rent comes straight out of my Centrelink payments and I pay my bills fortnightly,” she says. “This has really taught me to budget and make my money last for two weeks.”
As well as her three young children Talei is also looking after her 19-year-old sister. “My sister had a bad life – she was in and out of jail so I brought her to Sydney with me,” she says. “She has started a new course and is doing work experience. I’m really proud of her.” Her sister doesn’t receive any government support, so Talei bears that responsibility. “I’m the one looking after her, making sure she gets fed and dropping her at her course,” she says.
For Talei, life is safer than it has been for a long time, but admits she is scared for her future. “I’m afraid for my little ones,” she says. “I want to be successful and have my kids look up to me. That’s the part that’s missing right now. I want to get a job and be independent.”
*Name has been changed.
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All six episodes of Struggle Street series two are available to view on SBS On Demand.
Struggle Street series two is produced by KEO Films with funding support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria.