Skip to main content

Thousands of striking students march down the streets of Montreal as they demonstrate against tuition hikes Thursday, March 22, 2012.Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Also read Margaret Wente on why the Boomers are the gilded generation.

We Millennials have had to grow a thick skin over the years – we know what you think of us. We're equal parts entitled and impatient, right? We want the corner office right out of university, but we only want to work 9 to 5. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

When the federal budget was released this week, it didn't take long before members of my generation (born after 1982) did the calculations: They'd feel the blow of the new austerity measures most severely, even though those very measures are meant to correct the strains boomers have put on the system. Generation Y will now have to wait till 67 to claim their Old Age Security. When the public-sector job cuts come, seniority rules dictate Gen Y members will get the boot first. And youth-focused job creation? Little of that to be seen.

Is our sense of entitlement fair? Consider this: My generation is the best-educated one the Canadian work force has ever seen. Most of us not only paid large to go to school, we had to go back to school to get more degrees to compete for entry-level positions. Are we impatient? Sure, but only because doing back-to-back unpaid internships and contract work sans benefits wears on you after a while. We grew up on streets populated by young families who gave us the impression that owning a house wouldn't put us in crippling debt.

Marc Carver, a 33-year-old stay-at-home dad in Toronto, told me his parents bought a huge house in Mississauga, Ont. for $28,000 back in 1970.

"Neither one of them had an education," he said. "They just had decent public service jobs."

Last fall, Paul Kershaw, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, published a study that noted the annual household income for couples 25 to 34 had risen by 5 per cent on average in Canada. That might be worth celebrating if the average cost of housing in that period hadn't shot up by 76 per cent.

Listen, we're not dumb. We know we need austerity measures to counter the enormous costs of our social programs. We're just resentful that we already have to start saving for our own retirement, even as we pay for the mistakes of the older generation.

"If you look at when we created social policy, we stopped a lot of our building in the mid-1970s and that's when the peak of the baby boomer generation became adults," Prof. Kershaw says. "Boomers spent more than they were paying."

We've complained about getting the short end of the stick for a while but this budget is an official government acknowledgment of generational inequity. For the most part, the boomers will keep enjoying what they've always enjoyed (nearly all will get their OAS benefits at 65 as planned), while those of us not fortunate enough to be born before 1962 will pay through our noses to keep our social services afloat.

The priorities of our government have been set not just along partisan lines, but generational ones, notes Dr. Kershaw.

While job creation fuelled by the resource boom in western and central Canada is being marketed as the saviour of the Canadian economy, he says younger generations won't reap many long-term rewards from it – instead, they'll have to deal with its fallout, which could speed up climate change.

"That may be the greatest intergenerational assault for the Millennials and [Gen Xers]and their kids," he says.

And because the public purse has been emptied to pay for boomers' sky-high retirement and health-care costs, there's little left to spend on the societal concerns that affect our generation the most, such as climate change.

And though we've seen the writing on the wall and should be taking pro-active measures to save for our own retirements, we're facing the three-way squeeze of rising tuition fees, housing prices and child care expenses so there's little left over for RRSP contributions.

I worry about the graduating class of 2015: The average full-time undergraduate student paid more than $5,000 in tuition this past school year, up 4 per cent from the previous year. Inflation was 2.7 per cent from 2010 to 2011.

I'm one of the lucky ones – I got a job soon after I graduated from university – but still had to go through the process of two internships and a contract at The Globe and Mail before I got a staff position. By then, management had closed the defined-benefit pension plan to new employees. Fantastic.

Many of my university cohorts from the class of '08 pursued master's degrees to distract them from the lack of jobs in their field. When my friends post Facebook albums of their lives in Thailand or Kenya, it's a safe bet they're only there to collect course credit or complete an international (and often unpaid) internship. Extended trips are impossible when you're on the hook for monthly student loan payments and only have two weeks' annual vacation.

Claire Truesdale, a 25-year-old in Victoria, went to law school because she found the job market was bleak with only one degree under her belt. "I couldn't do anything with my undergraduate degree I couldn't have done in high school," she told me.

It's even tough for the ones in lucrative fields like computer science or finance since they're now competing on an international level – a reality for our generation.

I make okay coin and have benefits, but living in Toronto means home ownership is a far-off dream for me. Upgrading to a larger apartment that meets my minimal requirements (I'm a Millenial, but I promise they're not crazy) would mean spending 50 per cent of my net income on rent.

It turns out the only two-bedroom apartments I can afford in this city are in the basements of the beautiful houses boomers bought for a pittance before I was born. No thanks.