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Millennial poverty on the rise

Stepping into adult life is harder in Finland than before, a Turku University professor says. A degree is no guarantee for work, and high living costs aggravate the situation further. Other European countries have the same problem.

Nuoria ihmisiä opiskelemassa.
Students are hit hard both during and immediately after their studies. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Poverty statistics have gone down somewhat in the past decade in Finland, but millennials continue to struggle. Statistics Finland reports that more than one in four 18–24-year-olds are poor, or have "low income".

Poverty among young adults aged 25-34 has increased the most out of all age groups, by 17 percent compared with pensioners between 2008 and 2015. A third of these are students, another third unemployed.

"Becoming an adult is not as easy as it used to be. In the past there was work to be found right after graduation, and there was no trouble there. Now the transition from education to working life is jarring, elsewhere in Europe as here," says Professor of Social Policy Veli-Matti Ritakallio from the University of Turku.

The poverty line in Finland for one-person households is 1,185 euros per month, or 14,220 euros per year.

Post-grad insecurity

A decade or more ago, a higher or secondary education was practically a guarantee of finding gainful employment, but no more. Ritakallio still believes that education is always an "investment in one's future".

"Education doesn't assure anything anymore, but statistically speaking it is still essential and improves employment prospects. Personal education choices, for their part, are strongly tied to family backgrounds," Ritakallio says.

Some are luckier than others, as not all young adults can rely on family for financial aid. Neither do everyone's parents or grandparents leave behind inheritances to help enter adult life.

Ritakallio is adamant that if a young adult finds and secures a place to study, they should be supported.

"We have to do everything we can to help young adults motivated to study," he says. "Different types of education and different support measures are key."

People in the age group whose studies are interrupted – by choice or not – are likelier to face poverty than those who are able to gain a diploma. The popular image is that students working towards a higher degree especially are often temporarily poor while they work through their studies, which are seen as an investment in their own future.

Dear living

Expensive rents are one of the top reasons young adults are struggling financially.

"Typically young adults live alone either as students or as recent, unemployed graduates," Ritakallio says. "The living expenses are a massive strain and the main reason for young adult poverty. Once people first find steady employment, many purchase their own home, which is cheaper in the long run."

The professor says that down-and-out Finnish adults are not alone in Europe.

"Finland's situation is not unusual by European standards. Young adults in recent southern and eastern European EU member states are even worse off," he says.

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