House crisis pushes next generation out of Ireland



“We are so incredibly lucky,” remarked friends happily when we met up recently.  No, they hadn’t won the lottery but rather considered themselves blessed compared with their contemporaries; their two sons work in Ireland and live nearby within babysitting reach for my friends’ grandchildren. Whereas so many people they know have children scattered to the four corners of the earth.

It’s called the new brain drain. No matter how highly qualified these young people are, no matter that, with full employment, it is an employees’ market, many parents see the next generation quitting Ireland. Their children are unable to pass go in the housing market and they leave for places not only with better pay and quality of life, with lower prices, but most of all the hope of being able to afford a home of their own.

Last year 80,000 migrated, in search of a more realisable dream, for jobs in destinations like the UK, Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand and Dubai.

There’s a feeling that this shouldn’t be happening, not in a rich country with a healthy economy and loads of cash in our large budget surplus. Of course, waves of migration have happened before, back in the ‘80s due to the depression triggered by the oil crisis and after the 2008 crash when the economic downturn drove people away in search of work. In the ‘80s my daughter reckoned that nearly half her class left and CSO figures show that 8% of graduates migrated at the start of the ‘80s by the end of the decade that had grown to 30%.

But this time round things seem different. The latest report from Morgan McKinely’s Employment Monitor reveals a fall-off in the number of graduates applying for work in Ireland. Instead, young engineers and architects are leaving for opportunities in construction in the US or Canada, accountants are heading for Australia and Canada and lawyers for much higher salaries on offer in the UK.

Are we being robbed of a generation of high-quality graduates, losing our brightest and best because of political failure over the housing crisis? As well as the housing ladder being out of reach there is the swingeing cost of living here; last year Eurostat found that the cost of consumer prices and service were 46% dearer than the European average.

It’s all very well for grandparents and parents, enriched by the surge in house prices in the last half century. For instance, my first home in Dublin bought in 1971 sold for 12 times the original figure 15 years later.  As Social Democrat leader Holly Cairns TD has pointed out frequently, this generation is the first to be worse off than the previous one at least in terms of home ownership.

Since we joined the EU in 1973, we earn around twenty times more than we did back then, but house prices have risen even faster with a gap between earnings and the cost of homes widening by 32%. Fifty years ago, it took 4.5 times an average gross salary to buy a house, now seven times that is needed and house prices have risen at over three times the rate of inflation. Banks won’t lend more than four times an annual income and, not surprisingly, only one third of under 40s here own a home.

Aside from the effect of the housing crisis and the cost of living in a global economy it is par for the course for young people to work overseas for a period but do they return to settle down? The answer is yes that some do return. The latest CSO figures show that in the months from April 21 of the 120,700 immigrants 28,900 of those were returning Irish migrants. For the first time we have become a net importer of people, with 24,300 EU nationals among the immigrants together with people from the UK and other non-EU nationals.

Only some of our millennial migrants will return though and perhaps the quality of life is one of the deciding factors aside from romance and career opportunities. Why come back to rainy skies and leave a great lifestyle and salary?

My Godson, back home for a visit from Australia and comparing notes with the few of his school and college friends still in Ireland – the rest are working all over the world – told me that he is happy with the choice that he has made.

Something tells me he won’t be coming back anytime soon.

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