Housing Our Future

19 August 2015

Recent housing reports and concerns for the wage gap raise serious questions for the future of young Australians. It’s no secret that housing is an expensive enterprise, but this basic necessity is becoming a near impossible end for millions in the work force.

If Australia continues to allow the wage gap to increase, and the market continues to drive up housing prices, no amount of hard work will enable a young Australian to even begin to consider purchasing property without some serious financial support throughout their early adulthood.

On the 5th of May 2015, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) published a media release criticising the meagreness of the minimum wage in relation to housing affordability. Almost two million Australians are earning the national minimum wage, which amounts to an annual full-time income of $33,418. The price of an average house in any of Australia’s major cities is over twenty times the annual minimum wage.

A full-time minimum wage worker wishing to buy property would have to pay a whopping 80 per cent of their yearly income towards the mortgage, leaving a mere $6,600 a year for basic necessities such as food and electricity. The ACTU has lodged a request to the Fair Work Commission, imploring an increase to the minimum wage, helping to ensure that low-income earners are not forced out of the housing market.

Louise, a student at the University of Melbourne, says that these figures are very disheartening for families and youth employees, particularly those wishing to own a house, or live out of home in rental properties.

“I can’t move out right now, which really sucks because I practically live in the city,” Louise stated during a lengthy conversation about the possibility of share housing.

She attends university four full days a week, completes sport training in South Melbourne three nights a week as well as playing matches on Saturdays, works a part time job, and somehow manages to fit in a social life and her course work. Like many Australian young adults, her family doesn’t have the means to support her for the entirety of her tertiary studies, nor the time to help her make the trip to and from university, which clocks in at three hours a day via Melbourne’s infamous public transport.

For students like Louise, it’s going to be hard enough trying to move out of home in order to continue a fulfilling tertiary education. When the numbers are crunched and the budget formulated, it is clear that Louise will potentially have to work multiple casual and part time jobs if she wishes to be financially stable while studying. It is even more likely that after Centrelink is added into the mix and additional expenses are accounted for, Louise isn’t going to be able to save up any sufficient funds for life after university.

Families that have fallen into the rental cycle are also pleading for better pay for their work, with many parents working two jobs to keep their kids in school and food in the cupboard. Louise’s parents are both shift workers, with the three titles of hospital night nurse, fresh produce seller, and commissioned sales person shared between them.

“Dad works a lot and Mum is always busy. I can go several days without seeing anyone from my family, even though I’m going home every night,” Louise noted. “They don’t have time for me and my brother and sister. Sometimes I’ll get home at 8pm and they’ll ask if I can make dinner because they’ve been working all day.”

Although ideally everyone is supposed to be able to work hard at school, enter the work force and build up financial stability, the reality is that without a stable financial background, a stable future is much harder to attain. The psychological impacts of such a lifestyle are often overlooked, with many suffering from mental illness as a result of the persistent pressure to work that extra shift, in order to pay next month’s rent on time.

Louise weighed in on this struggle, sounding defeated. “It’s brutal. I sometimes wish my parents were lawyers and could pay for things so that I could actually focus on my studies, without worrying about whether I can afford to top up my myki.”

ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver agrees.

“Minimum wage earners have been working all their lives…they work farms, they clean schools and hospitals or look after young children…These are tough and important jobs and yet saving up for something as integral as a home is nearly impossible, even after years of work,” said Oliver.

The ACTU hopes to increase the full-time minimum wage from $640.90 per week to $667.90, a small step on the way to providing a liveable income at minimum wage.

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