Ireland Calling by John Spain
Ireland is no country for young men or women anymore -- Sky high taxes, lower incomes means only bad news for the young
Posted on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 08:05 AM
- "Greed is good", especially in Ireland it seems with pillars of society on the take
- Vintage pamphlets offer a glimpse at the rules of 50s-era Irish Catholicism
- A leap of faith by Ireland, the exit from the IMF/EU bailout
- A temporary detour from ecomic issues to Irish soccer madness
- Give Britain a break after decades of Irish emigration to the UK
One of the worst aspects of the financial crisis in Irelandis the way it has impacted on young people disproportionately.
By young people, I mean not just those still in college, but those in their twenties and thirties, and even forties.
These include the young couples who bought houses at the top of the boom and are now struggling to pay their sky high mortgages as their income shrivels. When they bought their dream home their pay seemed to be increasing every year; now it's shrinking, all the bonuses and overtime payments have vanished and money is getting tighter all the time.
And of course they can't sell because they're deep in negative equity, with the house worth half what they paid for it, or even less. Then there are those couples in even deeper trouble, the houses in which one or even both partners have lost their job. A recent report predicted that by this time next year, around one-fifth of all mortgages in Ireland will either be restructured or in arrears.
It's not just mortgages that are causing problems either. As the governmentstruggles to cut spending, a lot of free stuff now has to be paid for, in areas like health and education. Meanwhile, the cost of things that are essentials, like gas, electricity, oil, transport and even food have all increased. Petrol prices have increased sharply and for many families a car is an essential, not a luxury, with kids who have to be ferried to school and jobs to get to.
And the burden of taxes is getting heavier all the time. It's not just the income tax at 41 percent on anything over $40,000 a single person earns, but on top of that you pay four percent (and your employer pays 4.5 percent) in pay related social insurance (PRSI), and then there's the new universal social charge (USC) which is seven percent.
So including the employer's PRSI, the effective tax rate on anything a single person here earns over $40,000 is 56.5 percent, not the much quoted 41 percent. For a married couple, the income at which the marginal rate kicks in is $49,800.
All told, the income tax burden here is already very heavy. And if you have to pay for child care -- unlike other EU countries it's not subsidized here -- it can be very difficult to make ends meet.
On top of all this, many younger people here have significant borrowings (when they bought their dream home they got the plasma screen and the designer kitchen and the nice car), and making those loan repayments is also getting harder.
In many cases, the extras are being sold off. Older people tend to have pre-boom savings and have already acquired and paid for the extras that make life comfortable.
The conjuring trick of taking "social" charges separately out of pay does not fool anyone here anymore -- it's time the government here started calling it all income tax, because that's what it is.
The irony is that many people don't make use of "social insurance" anyway. They don't want to endure long waiting lists in the public healthsystem, and so they go private and pay for treatment.
A lot of them who lose their jobs emigrate so they don't take their welfare payments. And other things like "free" school education ends up costing money because sports and books and equipment all have to be funded by the young parents.
To say that money is tight for so many younger singles and couples here is an understatement.
A survey last April by the Irish League of Credit Unions showed that up to 47 percent of Irish adults have less than $130 to spend by the end of the month once all their essential bills are paid.
Most of them are younger people.Nearly two-thirds of those questioned said they have less to spend than they did last year.
The wave of unemployment here due to the financial crisis also affects younger people much more than the older generation (those in their forties and fifties and beyond). This is not surprising, since the younger ones may be college leavers or young workers with limited experience, whereas the older ones will often be well established in jobs or professions. The old rule of last in, first out, also seems to be in operation.
The result of this is that most of the 40,000 plus people now emigrating from here each yearare younger people. And it's not just singles, but young couples often with young children as well.
So in all kinds of ways, younger people here are getting a raw deal despite the fact that the crisis was created by the older generation, not the younger generation. And they will go on paying for the mistakes that led to the financial collapse and the bailout for years to come.
Read more: 40,000 are leaving Ireland every year new figures show
It's obviously unfair, but nothing is being done about it (like, for example, a serious program of debt forgiveness to rescue those younger couples now drowning in mortgage debt and negative equity).
All of that is only half the story, however. Where this becomes really shameful is the way the older, established section of Irish society is doing everything it can to protect its privileged position at the expense of the younger generation, no matter the consequences.
A lot of lip service has been paid here to the necessity for burden sharing to get us through the crisis but when it gets down to it, it's I'm alright Jack, and you can look after yourself.
This is happening right across the economy here. In the private sector we have seen the arrival of so called "yellow pack" workers in many companies who get lower pay and poorer conditions and pension entitlements than existing workers doing the same jobs.
School and college leavers are taken on for periods of "work experience" but never get paid. There are the "internships" which are paid at low rates, and when it's time for the interns to get proper pay they are let go and a new lot of interns are brought in.
Add to that the growing tendency to offer short term contracts of a year or two rather than permanent jobs and it all adds up to exploitation.
A lot of this has happened while older workers in these companies have stood back and done nothing as long as their positions, pay, and pensions have been protected. The same thing is happening to a far greater extent in the public service, where state workers and their unions have turned their backs on new entrants.
In this column recently we mentioned the case of teachers. Recent figures show that new school teachers here are now being paid $15,000 less than new teachers who started work in 2010 (starting salary of $36,000, down from $50,000).
They will be doing exactly the same work as their colleagues but will be paid far less. In fact they are getting less than the pensions being paid to older teachers who have retired in the past few years. Even a teacher who retires at 60 instead of 65 gets more in pension than a new teacher now joining our school system gets in pay.
Clearly this is deeply unfair. But it's not just in teaching that this kind of stuff is going on -- it's happening across the state workforce.
And to their shame, the unions in the state sector have been a key player in this rotten compromise. Younger entrants in all areas of state services are being given lower pay and poorer conditions in a trade off that allows the older workers (all unions members of long standing) to keep their privileged pay and pensions.
Pay and pensions in the state sector are protected under the Croke Park Agreement, the now infamous deal signed by the last government in 2010 and running up to 2014 under which the state sector unions guaranteed that there would be no strikes. Under the agreement there can be no pay cuts, other than the very limited reductions already agreed at that time by the unions.
But the crucial thing about theCroke ParkAgreement is that it applied only to the state workforce at that time. It did not cover new entrants into the state services.
So in return for guarantees on their own pay and pensions, the existing state workforce abandoned the new generation of state workers who would be coming in. In effect this meant that the unions had abandoned the basic principle of equal pay for equal work.
The door had been opened to a two tier system, with those on the good deals that went with the boom hanging on to what they had at the expense of the newcomers.
The Labour Party – which is part of the coalition government -- has lost all credibility on the issue of reform in the state services. The (Labour) Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlinbecame a laughing stock here over the past week because of his failure to implement any reform that affects the existing workforce in the state services as opposed to the sacrificial lambs of the new entrants.
He promised major reform of the system of "allowances" given to state workers -- some deserved, most simply idiotic -- which gives them extra payments to hike up their incomes for doing extra chores (like filing, or using technology) that most people in the private sector would consider a normal part of the job.
These allowances are being scrapped for new entrants, but of the 1,100 allowances in the system which benefit the older generation of state workers, Howlin managed after his review to scrap just one.
Why did this happen? Because the unions, on behalf of the established state workforce, told him to back off.
What we have, we hold. And if the new entrants don't do as well, don't blame us, they said. We're not joining a race to the bottom.
So overall, the pain of cutting back in the Irish economy is falling mainly on younger workers and their families. It's true in the private sector and even more so in the state sector.
It's no country for young men, or young women either.
See more: Labour Party