The entire country is aghast at the housing crisis, with over 8,000 homeless including 3,000 children. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has not helped matters by playing down the scale of the problem by describing it as low by international standards. The disaster has been caused by a lack of capital spending since 2008 – the consequences of the financial crisis meant all bailout funds were used to pay Ireland’s debt burden.
The health and housing systems have thus been starved of investment for almost a decade, leaving the country overwhelmingly unprepared for the side-effects of the recovery. The combination of returning migrants and more people choosing to stay in Ireland are placing immense pressure on rental prices. Figures suggest that Dublin tenants spend over half of their take-home pay on rent.
According to economist Stephen Kinsella, the effects of the housing crisis will continue to weigh on the country for the next ten to 15 years. Speaking to FT Alphachat earlier this year, he explained that people in their 30s to 40s are the hardest hit. Our prospects of getting on the housing ladder are fairly dismal. And conditions are only expected to worsen with Brexit threatening our only thriving indigenous industry, agri-food – not to mention the instability posed by a hard border with Northern Ireland.
From poor to prosperous
Today’s 30-somethings grew up during the Celtic Tiger years (1995-2002). This was when Ireland evolved from being a developing economy into a developed, or rich-world, economy. Living standards finally converged with that of our Western European, British and North American peers.
The succeeding ‘boom’ years paved the way for the bust. Easy credit enabled too many people to take out loans and leverage their debt, despite being completely financially-unfit for this type of behaviour. Regulation was weak and, at the very least, people were naïve about the type of tactics used by banks to encourage borrowing. We all now largely agree that this was reckless, although there are no guarantees that we will not be vulnerable to these temptations again. Memories are short after all.
As a 30-something, I am quite worried about my prospects in Ireland. I thought it was all about getting a good education to be able to secure a good job and a nice home. After graduating in 2008, I was strongly encouraged to move to London given the tsunami that was set to hit Ireland. I did so for seven years and I am among the many thousands who have chanced their luck by returning home. Yet the sentiment that surrounds me is not that different from when I left: that the future is bleak. Most countries are, I would expect, pretty dissatisfied with their situations. The difference for Ireland is that emigration has always been promoted as the solution to the lack of opportunities.
That attitude faded during the Celtic Tiger years. Today’s 30-somethings were led to believe that they would achieve the lifestyles they viewed on American TV shows, once cable went mainstream. At the very least, that meant having the means to travel and to buy a home in Ireland. And that belief continues to pervade millennials or ‘generation snowflake’ today.
Older people often scoff at those expectations with a note of “in my day”, which is not very helpful – especially when they have managed to secure homes and families and retirement savings. And were not subject to zero-hour contracts and enjoyed jobs for life. Listening to a popular radio show recently, the 69-year-old host advised a 36-year-old listener to find a wife if he wanted to afford a mortgage. That was certainly not the attitude of the 1970s.
It is also worth highlighting that during the recent financial crisis, our Polish peers stayed – helping to stem the flow of talent. This was because they were far more used to economic headwinds than Irish youths.
So I sat down last night and discussed all this with my family. My sister graduated in the late 80s and was the only one of her close-knit friends not to emigrate.
“What were your expectations?” I asked.
“We didn’t have any,” she answered.
I’m not sure which is worse but one thing is for sure: Ireland’s 30-somethings have been spoiled and smashed by expectations.