When I saw the headline “Kick ‘em out, for their sake and your own” I thought it was for some far-right group proclaiming the nation for whitey. It was actually an opinion piece on the phenomenon of adult children staying in the family home.
Let me say this up front: If I was living in the same city as my parents and family, and I was in a similar position (trying to finish off my PhD), then I would live at home in a second. I moved home when I did my 4th (honours) year of my undergraduate degree and changed from working graveyard shifts to working weekend shifts. To say my life improved would be an understatement.
Firstly, the author, Lisa Pryor, is…. quite pretty. I deleted a rant about the reproduction of social privilege and people with Law/Arts degrees from sandstone universities (such as Pryor’s degree from USyd), but that would be pointless. Pryor already has enough fans and has actually done some good work, so she doesn’t need my bile. (Plus I doubt this is her blog. lol!) The only thing I will say is that I think she is from my generation — ie the equivalent of the ‘live-at-home’ generation — and not that of my parents, which is interesting.
She makes one good point. If the stay-at-home generation were kicked out of home, then things certainly would change, but at what cost? …revolution! Bring it on!
The two things she misses in her piece relate to the structural position of youth and students in a neoliberal economy and the ways the post-war economic boom in Australia (and probably other countries) is impacting on familial units.
‘Youth’ and ‘student’ are two structural positions that have emerged as employment categories in the casualised workforce/labour pool and workplace. The category of ‘student’ has been around for a long time. ‘Youth’ emerged as children and not-yet-adults were reinserted into the labour pool after the category of ‘child’ was constructed in an attempt to save them from forced labour conditions of industrial England and other places. The notion of having a flexible or excess labour pool to meet the demands of business has also been around for a long time (Marx talks about it). The problem emerges when the category of ‘youth’ or ‘student’ is used to describe jobs where there is no such categorical essence. I remember jobs like the one I had at the service station were described as ‘uni student’ or ‘youth’ jobs. Sure that applied to me, but not to my 100% working-class 40-something year old supervisor getting paid about $2-an-hour more than I was.
Only someone who comes from a world of privilege would believe that living in a situation in which present and future insecurity conditions every move you make is something equivalent to a lifestyle choice:
Is it any coincidence, for example, that it is the live-at-home generation who are so convinced that working on short-term contracts is, like, totally empowered? It’s not casual work, it’s “portfolio work”, they say.
After all, if you go without work for a few weeks, you just stop going out and invite your friends over to the family home instead. You watch the family television, drink the family beer and eat from the family fridge. After all, everyone knows that food from the fridge is free.
Yeah, right. ‘Portfolio work’. Good one. What tiny percentage of inner-city dwellers could this possibly apply to? I find this so infuriating. In the suburbs, “casual work” means a permanent ‘casual’ job in the service industry. Those who would like to have full time employment to start all those adult things like buy a house and have a family are denied until they are given permanency. This is not the same thing as, for example, the revolutionary factory workers of 1970s Italy who demanded non-permanent working conditions to enable a freer ‘flexible’ lifestyle. The ‘flexibility’ here in Australia circa 21st century is being imposed from the top down. For example, my brother would love to have a permanent job, yet he was forced to reapply for the same job every six months consecutively for three years. In the end he gave up and has begun looking elsewhere. The family home gives such people a little security in the face of ‘flexible’ working conditions.
The second thing relates to the the family home as a basic unit for the distribution of the affluence accrued during the opportunities of the post-war period. The family unit as a key site for the reproduction of social privilege in class-based societies is an old idea. However what is new is the specific historical conjuncture of a number of factors, including Federal Governments who bring in insecure workplace flexibility as the norm and a booming housing market that excludes first time buyers, the ‘stay-at-home’ generation does not have the same opportunities to accrue wealth as the previous generation. We are seeing the slow redistribution of wealth along familial lines. Instead of the welfare state, we have the welfare home.
The real issue, if one can look beyond one’s privilege, are those poor sprogs who do not have a family who loves and cares for them or simply does not have a family that can support them in times of need. Pryor needs to look beyond the orbit of her bourgie-centric world to see what is going on around her. Staying at home is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ but is often a socially debilitating decision that is not easily made.
Of course, it would be nonsense to make the damning suggestion that Pryor‘s article is motivated by her role as “specialising in property reporting and urban affairs” for the SMH. By that I mean, perhaps without her even knowing, such an article plays into the hands of the Real Estate industry who, I suspect, would very much like there to be an excess of prospective new renters and home owners to keep the inflated housing market bouyant…