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Millennials, Boomers agree: The future is bleak

It doesn’t take a survey to convince Jessica Barrett that Millennial-age workers are anxious about their future.

A journalist currently based in Calgary, Barrett, 31, is half-way through a one-year fellowship that has her examining our expectations of the modern workforce versus the reality of work in this economy, and how we are coping with the differences between the two worlds.

She’s heard plenty of concern and frustration expressed by our best and brightest young workers (those born between 1980 and 2000), many of whom are struggling to land permanent work in a tumultuous global economy, and can only long for the comforts that come with such security, like extended benefits, a pension plan or any measure of predictable income.

Barrett is also living the very definition of her generation: When her fellowship ends, she's back to hustling for her next gig, a reality she’s gotten used to after six years of internships, freelance jobs and maternity leaves.

“I am right there with the people I am interviewing. I am trying to figure out where I am going to be in six months,” she told Yahoo Canada Finance.

In a timely offering, the Broadbent Institute in Ottawa recently released a survey confirming much of Barrett’s workplace research and real-life experience.

Namely, the survey results indicate Millennials aren’t just whining when they say they have fewer economic opportunities than their parents (and, in some cases, grandparents). Baby Boomers believe it, too. Indeed the older generation (between 50 and 65 years old) appears even more uneasy about a future of precarious, low-benefit work and what that will mean for themselves and their children.

The poll found Boomers are far more likely to think their children will slip in economic class than Millennials when asked about their future economic status; and about half (49 per cent) of Boomers believe economic opportunities are worse for their children than when they were young.

The majority of Boomers fear, too, that their children’s generation won’t be able to raise the tax revenue to pay for social programs they will need in retirement.

Other key findings include:

  • Nearly four times as many Millennials believe they will face a mix of contract and permanent work than what Baby Boomers report they faced in their life.

  • Twice as many younger workers think they’ll have to endure long periods without work compared to their parents or grandparents; with no Millennials expecting to stay home to manage the house versus 7 per cent of boomers.

  • Millennials are three times as likely to think income inequality will grow, rather than narrow in their lifetime.

  • And while more than half of Boomers are certain they’ll own their home at retirement, only a third of Millennials are as confident.

Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, said the survey results serve as a wake-up call to corporate Canada, noting large majorities of Millennials and Boomers appear to harbour a “profound” distrust of corporations and their will to work hard to make sure good jobs are created in Canada.

Government, too, should be paying attention and looking to strengthen policy to support of Canadian youth.

“We’re not trying to wave a magic wand and pretend this is going to be easy to fix,” said Smith, but, “without a changing in direction, Canada won’t see one generation leaving things better for the next.”

If there’s a bright spot in all this, Barrett sees it coming from Millennials themselves. In the face of a precarious economic future, young Canadians are moving ahead with their lives regardless – having families, planning trips and, yes, even daring to take on mortgages.

It may mean a recalibration of what success looks like – perhaps that means expecting a more modest life, materially speaking, or downgrading career expectations from dream job to something you enjoy most of the time.

“I really do get a sense of acceptance from younger workers that this is the way that it is: ‘I may not be able to change the circumstances, but what I can change is my attitude towards it, my values, and not let it derail my life’,” Barrett said.