Although we "returned" to the university campus this past semester, students are reluctant to physically attend classes.
They can't see a future. Their mojo and buzz are gone. Despondency rules.
One student said she'll never know what opportunities may have arisen these past years and what doors may have opened had nearly her entire course not been on Zoom. Many say they want to leave after graduating for foreign climes offering higher pay and lower living costs.
What did the Government do to them? How did it manage to suck the oxygen out of the air they breathe? It took away their dreams.
The Treasury publication Trends in Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand reports: "Loneliness is highest among people aged 15-24... Teen suicide rates are among the worst in the OECD. Cognitive skills at age 15 are in decline. Levels of school attendance are declining and particularly low among those in more deprived areas. We have the highest rate of bullying in the OECD... People aged under 25 are least likely to report a high sense of belonging... least likely to report life is worthwhile and less likely to vote than young people in other OECD countries".
So much for the "well-being budgets".
The proportion of people with high levels of psychological distress increased by far the most for 15 to 24-year-olds between 2020 and 2021. It stands at record levels, rising from 5 per cent in 2012 to nearly 20 per cent in 2021. For over 55-year-olds, distress has fallen these past years to just 5 per cent today. New Zealand has become a country for oldies to enjoy whilst the young silently drown.
There's more evidence. National now polls better than Labour for voters under 40, an incredible turnaround for the Prime Minister. Gone are the days when the young embraced her. Concerns about saving the world have given way to anxiety about personal survival.
How did it come to this?
For starters, virus policies that included stringent lock-downs for everyone, regardless of age, were primarily designed for the benefit of the elderly. The Lancet Medical Journal reports that the fraction of people infected with Coronavirus who died after contracting the disease in the pre-vaccination era was 124 times higher for 65-year-olds compared to 20-year-olds. For 75-year-olds it was 350 times higher.
What's more, the Reserve Bank's $52 billion money-printing programme favoured the asset-rich elderly. It inflated their wealth by increasing the value of their property and shares, crushing the young's dream of home ownership.
Our health-care system, which mainly exists for the benefit of oldies, and our pensions, are being supported by the working young.
Most of the 2022 Budget "boost" for health will be swallowed up by "administration costs". The leftovers won't remotely meet the additional demands arising from the ageing population. The present non-reforms don't lower costs. More competition in service supply is needed for that aim, for which there is no plan.
The young are also paying for virus-related corporate subsidies which have propped up big businesses, like Fletchers. The result has been a one-two, knock-out punch. One. The quality of their education was thrown under the bus by other budget priorities. Two. They've been robbed of income. Cost-of-living-adjusted wages are dropping as inflation is "creeping" them into higher tax brackets.
Most students are hard-up but on the way up. They don't want to live off the State. They want to be successful. Independent. Yet rewards for achievement don't figure in our politics. Instead, it is dominated by David Parker-style talk about the evils of inequality between the top 1 per cent and bottom 1 per cent, as if the 98 per cent don't exist.
There's no guarantee a top student can even land a good job. Why? When it comes to public-sector positions in Wellington, a poorly qualified, expanding class of working-at-home, over-paid managers who know how to "play politics" are cynically taking advantage of our best young graduates. They're being used as "analysts" to do the hard, technical work which the managers can't do themselves.
As for corporate jobs, there are only a few big Kiwi companies. A booming group of NZX firms offering interesting jobs doesn't exist.
Where can our students go to socialise? Not Queen St where they'll probably be beaten up, provided it isn't closed. In this world of "caution" - a word frequently used by the PM - it's better to not go out and not take risks. Problem is, students mostly live in small rentals.
This article is no advert for the National Party. It has no plan for youth either, other than "bring-back-the-Key-years". Where do young Kiwis fit into that model, built on foreign tourists, immigration and a property bubble? How can the Nats attack Labour on productivity, when it barely rose during their nine years in power?
All told, the unwillingness to vote of young, ambitious, non-work-shy Kiwis, except with their feet to leave the country, isn't hard to explain.
• Robert MacCulloch is the Matthew S. Abel Professor of Macroeconomics at the University of Auckland.