Like many uni students converging on campuses for another year, Cindy Hoang won’t sacrifice her dreams for big end of town wages but wonders if this attitude is creating a new class of “privileged poor”?
We all just accept that uni students aren’t in the best financial position. Cafés, NSW Transport and clothing and electronics stores all give us student discounts. Charity organisations know not to approach us on the street. Banks never charge us any fees. Like many others, I complain about waking up for a 9am lecture,and slugging it out at a shitty job. I always feel that money’s a bit of a hurdle – a long hurdle, for all those Arts and Design kids edging closer to the end of their degrees.
Apparently I’m part of something, other than the struggling young person battling their way through the injustices of pre-adult, 20-something life. Apparently I’m part of a growing privileged poor.
The privileged poor: a seemingly paradoxical concept. It’s the uni students who live on minimum wage or Centrelink payments while undertaking unpaid internships in the hopes of chasing their dreams, but still have rent, food and/or phone bills paid by their working mums and dads – think HBO’s Girls minus all that drama. The ones who complain about the life of a struggling student, yet still go out every other weekend and drink $10 cocktails, shop at ASOS and General Pants, and somehow manage to save enough money to go off to the U.S or South-East Asia during winter break. And let’s not forget all those two-a-day city coffees. Sound too familiar?
It would seem that we’re not actually as disadvantaged as society thinks we are, yet we still feel as though we don’t have enough – enough money, enough time, enough breaks. Is it a mark of 21st century consumerism that we no longer want to have just enough to get by? I’ve certainly never considered myself to be privileged – or poor for that matter, but for a large number of uni students, that’s what we are. Before you write this off as self-pitying student woes – the privileged poor doesn’t discriminate, latching itself onto recent graduates making their way up the work force and middle-class families feeling the pinch when they have to forgo an overseas holiday because bills or the children’s school fees are adding up.
It’s a new breed of privilege that doesn’t just limit itself to children from upper-middle to upper-class families. We all say we’d rather be doing something that makes us happy than be stuck at a miserable job with a nice paycheck, but what happens when living comfortably changes to having enough to get by – and more? We may not want to be millionaires, but we want to buy whatever, whenever. We want to never have to say no and while there’s nothing with that, it’s about time we acknowledge it for what it is instead of pulling out the “poor me” card. Put simply, we want it all.
Maybe it’s not so bad wanting to have your cake and eat it too. I mean, who doesn’t like cake – it’s fluffy, ordinary mush that disguises itself as a decadent dessert. As long as you know there’s more to life than cake, what’s wrong with wanting it all? Wanting to break into that industry, travel bits of the world and be successful and surrounded by the people and things that make us happy? The privileged poor might have privilege in their blood, but the poor side – the constant and unescapable feeling of never having enough – means there isn’t that sense of complacency and entitlement you’d expect from hearing the word privilege. Unfortunately the only thing there is a self-pity complex.
I don’t know what is worse: entitlement or self-pity.
I do, however, know that I like cake.