Blowing Water
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The problem with millennials? It’s not what you think

You’d be apathetic too, if you felt like you had no control over your life, Luisa Tam says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 8:15pm

If you think millennials are a lazy, entitled and commitment-phobic crowd of youngsters incapable of growing up, you are not alone.

People like to moan and groan about millennials and are quick to pass harsh judgment and stereotype this so-called Generation Y. But let’s not lose sight of the real story and ignore the reasons that have driven them to become what they are today.

Sure, they are knee-deep in debt before they even start working and will need many years, if not a few decades, to pay off said debt. According to a 2013 survey by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, some of those polled said it would take them at least 20 years to pay off their student loans, which amounted on average to HK$200,000 per borrower back then.

They are stuck living at home with their parents because they can hardly afford their own place on their meagre salaries. One young local politician who has since been ousted from the Legislative Council infamously said that a lack of affordable housing in Hong Kong meant that young people do not even have enough sexual privacy. While we can agree with her logic, her delivery wasn’t as well thought out, so her comments stirred widespread criticism.

To be honest, when you look at the problems millennials are facing, it all comes down to not having control over their own lives.

We all know what it’s like to be in debt, but just imagine you already owe hundreds of thousands of dollars before you even start working. Having debt hanging over one’s head would keep anyone, no matter how motivated, from reaching many important milestones in life, such as owning your first home.

Having that feeling that many basic life goals appear unattainable can only sap one’s motivation for changing one’s fortunes. As it is, upward mobility is a serious problem in Hong Kong, with the widening income gap reaching a record level this year: the richest household makes about 44 times more than what the poorest family scrapes together.

How China’s young people became addicted to debt

If you are young, what would help you believe you can overcome the odds? Can we blame hapless millennials for being unmotivated?

When I brought up the issue with a group of millennials recently, they were quick to fire back. One of them retorted that anyone in a position with high levels of debt and receiving little pay would be just as angry and frustrated as the down-on-their-luck millennial generation.

So maybe we need to stop chalking millennial apathy up to a generation-wide sense of entitlement and idleness. If we don’t try to seek the truth and fix the problem, there could well be another generation with even more discontentment to follow.

Millennials are just misunderstood, and divisive coverage is not helping

Some millennials have become creative about their condition. You must have seen some boxy little cars decked out with fur fabrics or fairy lights on top of the dashboard roaming around the city. These are their own mobile homes. It’s a sanctuary that provides them temporary relief from being in a cramped living space at home.

Against this backdrop, maybe we ought to have a better understanding of the millennial psyche. It’s not that they have different values in life – they just have different ways of expressing these values due to the vastly different environments they are stuck in. They need help and guidance.

If anything is holding millennials back, it’s us: the non-millennials.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post.