Newsflash, Millennials: No More Avocados For You

You might think that the incredible housing squeeze on young people is unique to your area. Your city. Your country. I’ve lived on four continents and travelled the world every year since 2007. You’d be wrong. It’s everywhere.

This piece got picked up by Economy.com, a group dedicated to making economics more accessible and interesting for the average person. Please see the version on their online magazine here. 

Unfortunately, I was born into one of the craziest places for this trend. I was born in 1987 in Boulder, Colorado, USA. I’m in town visiting, and the house to which my parents first brought me is the same purple colour as it was then, on a busy corner near to Pearl Street. I dared to look up property prices in the area. That may have been a mistake. It sold for $106,300 in December 1989. It’s now worth about $750,000.

My parents recently received their updated property price assessment in the mail last week. In two years, the total amount that the tax office estimates my childhood home is worth went up $114,000. In two years! A 19% increase. Crazily enough, this year is not an anomaly. I know people who pay less in New York City for rent than in Denver! In the last six years, property prices and rents in the Front Range of Colorado have gone up at least 50%.

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Longmont, Colorado

That’s almost two times higher increases than in London, to put it in perspective. I lived in London from 2013-2015, and I know firsthand that affording rent is tough in the city. My husband and I got married during that time, and we shared a house with seven people in Leyton. For one room in a house with but one bathroom, we paid £630 (about $1100 at the time) per month.

In France, affordable housing is a major issue among young people, driving 40% of them into the arms of Le Pen during the last election (she promised more affordable property). In Korea, there are somewhat-artificial housing booms, with older neighbourhoods being knocked down and huge, hive-like apartment buildings rising ever more numerous in even small cities. In Australia, property prices in already-basically-impossible to afford Sydney are up 20% just in 2017 (nationwide, 12.9%).

That stream of numbers directly impacts the lives and wellbeing of younger adults. Just 34.1% of ‘Millennials’ own property in the USA, a record low. Everyone is scrambling to blame something for that fact.

The last couple of years have seen paroxysms of worry-journalism about young adults not buying property (I counted no fewer than 10 ‘What if Millennials Never Buy Houses?!’ headlines from just this year in major publications). An Australian property tycoon recently said the young can’t afford to buy houses because they’re spending all their money on $4 coffee and smashed avocados.

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In a certain sense, albeit deliberately twisted from his original meaning, Tim Gurner is right about his own generation.

Do millennials really spend more and save less than previous generations? According to some measures, yes! But it is important to put the spending in context, specifically in the context of wages and purchasing power.

Due to inflation and changes in the real cost of buying things, real wages have stagnated or even fallen in real terms for decades. Some argue that stagnant wages are a temporary by-product of Brexit, but that is just not borne out by the data. If you want to find out how much your wages would be worth in a past year, use a cost of living calculator online.

If I had the same salary in 1987, it would have been worth more than double its 2017 value in real terms. Yet many industries have not increased wages, with many in my generation stuck in the $20,000-$35,000 range. In the UK, real wages have fallen 10.4% since 2007.

The only OCED country with an equal precipitous decrease over that time? Greece.

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This is how Greece felt about that. Courtesy of CNN.

What is the price of houses in relation to average earnings in comparison to previous generations? The answer may make you swear aloud and scare your relatives, like I just did while researching this piece. Let’s start with the incredible increases in basic commodities prices, as shown by the price of a pint.

In 1982, you’d have paid 73p for a regular beer in a pub. Thirty years later, the 2012 price was £3.18 on average (and approximately £25 for a craft pint in London…). That means in 2012 you’d have needed £299 in your wallet to have equal purchasing power to £100 in 1982.

£100 = £300 

Because Economics. 

Average wages in the UK in 1982 allowed for a relatively high number of people to get on the property ladder. The average house prices were lower when compared to income. By contrast, in 2017 the comparison stands at 3.5 (meaning that a mortgage would be for 3.5 times one’s yearly income).  EDIT: Guys, I was wrong. FullFact.org informs me that the numbers are considerably worse. According to the government’s own research:  

In 1997, house prices were on average around 3.6 times workers’ annual gross full-time earnings, whereas in 2016 workers could typically expect to spend around 7.6 times annual earnings on purchasing a home.

That’s worse than in the depths of the Great Recession.

In Sydney, which is too expensive even for the billionaire investor who spouted that avocado quote, housing costs (rent included) are up 70% in the last five years. Wages are up only 13%. The gap between earnings and property prices is big, and growing wider.

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Young people are considerably more saddled with student loan debt as well. Comparing those who graduated in 2002 to those in 2015, more than 70% of graduates were expected to never pay off their loans. That’s a big difference; half those from 2002 have already paid theirs off. In 2004, 57% of those aged 25-34 in the UK owned a house. In 2014 (most recent data), that had fallen to 37%. Economists and real, actual young people alike cite student loan debt as a major factor in the lower numbers.

So yes, young people aren’t saving money as much as previous generations and they aren’t buying as much property, either. It’s hard to save when you’re trying to cover the basics, living paycheck to paycheck as many young people do.What Gurner and other critics seem to be saying implicitly is that young people should sacrifice even more.

Many of us do. In desperate attempts to turn hard economic realities into a ‘lifestyle,’ many people under the age of 35 have created identities that soften the blow of being poorer than their parents at this age, if not outright glamourise low-income life. They apply trendy labels to their economic struggles like, ‘minimalist.’ That might reasonably translate to ‘I can afford neither nice things nor a place to put them!’

Vintage recipes, based on rationing and the shortages of the Great Depression are all the rage among young families.

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$5 Icelandic black caviar on a hot dog,
Tim Gurner. What now?

Tiny houses are huge, with the low pricetag as a major draw. Alternative housing (sharing, coliving, community shares, digital nomdism) are redefining what ‘home’ can mean for people under 35. It’s not all bad, but it is mostly a departure from the expectations with which we were raised. For many, including this Millennial writing from her parents’ house in suburban America, there is a pervasive sense of shame connected to money and saving.

Our economy does encourage young people to save, rather than spend. We know that we should be putting away a fifth of our income for retirement, but since more than a third of it is going on rent we can’t. We feel the guilt if we treat ourselves to a couple of beers at our favourite brewery. We put off marriage, children, buying cars, and getting out of jobs that we hate because we have the financial equivalent of The Fear of God in us. We try our best to mitigate the after effects of the Great Recession, all tempered with the real-world experience to know the next big crash is coming. We want to save, but many of us just can’t.

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A typical Millennial Apartment in South Korea – 190 square feet

All those traditional markers of adulthood that used to connect us to society at large are changing. In many cases, they can still be achieved with relative ease. For more young adults, they seem difficult or even insurmountable. The last god damned thing those of us in these circumstances need is a billionaire complaining that we don’t save enough. He didn’t save the $34,000 he used to make his first investment. It was a gift to him from family! There’s nothing strictly-speaking wrong with getting financial help from family, but it is not the same as saving every $4 coffee.

There is certainly a tendency to blame young adults for our own financial burdens. It’s possible that many of us are making poor choices, but that would not distinguish us from any previous generation. The truth is that the economy is changing, has changed, and is not benefitting all of us.

I look forward to my £11 pint in the year 2047, when the house I was born into will cost $4.7 million and I will have finally paid off my London master’s degree. I’m only half-joking.

This is a nightmare

I have had this nightmare many times.

I get to immigration, and they tell me I am barred. I can see Russell waiting for me across the border. I can’t signal to him, but only make eye contact. I argue, I refuse to leave the area. I fight. They take my passport. They cancel my visa.

In one version of the dream, I am coming back into the USA from abroad. They rip into me for living abroad and for being Anti-American. They question me. They berate me, waving my passport in my face. In the dreams, the border agents sometimes wear Trump pins.

“Are you such a loser that you can’t get a job here?”

“What are your opinions of President Trump?”

“We understand that you have been expressing dissent online.”

In one version of the dream, they take my passport and say that I can choose right then whether I ever want to see my family again, enter the USA to never leave again, or become a stateless person.

In another dream, I am barred from getting into the UK to see my husband who is in hosptial. In another, I am horrified to see that one critical box remains unchecked on my entry application. In another, a border guard gets in my face about having lived in China. In another, I don’t pass the medical exam or refuse to have a chest x-ray while pregnant.

“You’ll have to start everything over, then.”

“But the safety of my baby is more important, surely!”


I want to interject here that the closest I’ve ever been to having these nightmares come true was in Denver International Airport.

My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I had to go through separate lines at the border, as always. It was a bad day at the border, and it took more than an hour and a half for me to get through. I stood in the baggage claim area, with all our bags. Russell waited another 90 minutes.

When he handed his passport over to the agent and told him he was there to visit my family and to travel a little bit. The border agent asked him an innocuous question. 

“Where did you meet your girlfriend?”

“We met in South Korea.”

This is where the agent went off the handle. I watched in horror from the doorway of the baggage claim area while he began yelling at Russell, telling him that he was lying, that it wasn’t possible that he met me in South Korea, and giving indications that he was about to ban him from the USA. I was paralysed with fear.

I didn’t know if I could run back into the stifling border room. I didn’t know where they would take Russell if the agent refused to let him through. I had no phone with which to call a lawyer and no money to pay one.

Luckily, my husband is a calm and measured person. He took the railing and abuse on the chin, calmly stated the truth, and calmed the border agent down.

He stamped his passport, shoved it at Russell, and spat, “We’re done here!”

Welcome to my country. 


Although my family is not directly impacted by the ban on immigration and entry that Trump signed into law, I feel it in my bones.

I am in a unique position to understand what absolute nightmares those now detained in airports are feeling. The anxieties of navigating how to live as a family in the same country this century are back-breaking. No matter where one tries to obtain legal residency and work permits, it is a fraught process.

Right now, more than 170 people are detained in airports around the USA, and thousands more are in limbo around the world. Couples are being separated. Some who worked for the USA as interpreters during the Iraq War are being handcuffed and led away. Scientists, engineers, students, and artists from the seven affected countries are being told to stay away.

The merits of whole swaths of good people trying their best to have a life in the USA are being thrown out with the stroke of a pen. Ostensibly, this is to do with national origin. Clearly, it doesn’t matter to the execution of the order on the border that this is wholly illegal as a basis for denying entry to the USA. Of course, it is a paltry cover for the real reasons behind Trump’s ban.

My heart breaks for the people whose tickets have been torn up en route to the USA. These people won the rights afforded them with a visa process that is invasive, demanding, and soul-crushing. They are the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. 

And yet, the implications of this ban are far more concerning.

Trump has shown that with unilateral action he can throw the US into chaos. He can immediately and without checks and balances directly impact the lives and livelihoods of Americans, American Hopefuls, and those who don’t even really want much to do with the USA.

When immigration laws change for any one group, they tend to change for all groups. Often in unexpected ways.

This means that as I sit here in South Korea, trying to figure out what complicated dance we need to do to be able to live together in the coming year, that my husband and I stand to be affected by Trump’s pen, too. He already made it clear that his whole policy is supposedly “America First.” What will happen to my binational, nascent family? Where can we go? Will Trump somehow affect my passport as an American who lives abroad?

For the moment, all those questions of mine must be on hold. I need to help my fellows. I will be calling my representatives every day via Skype until such time as the ban is lifted. I will be donating to the ACLU and refugee groups. I will not be quiet.

This is a nightmare. It must end.

Top Trumps: Christmas Week

It’s a time of celebration and I don’t feel like dwelling on the president-elect’s idiocies, but there was a massive one this week.

Nuclear annihilation for the holidays, anyone? I went and bought a Kindle book about nukes as a result of this bullshit. I now know more about these terrible and never-should-be-used weapons.

Just to remind you, this is what the largest payload nuclear weapon ever detonated (not the largest ever made) looked like.

God, I wish I could drink a Tsar Bomba from Gravity Brewing right now.

Fuck Trump.

This is a weekly post for the foreseeable future in which I summarise what new hells Trump has visited upon us all in a convenient bulleted list. I follow this with the video of me burning him in effigy on Gwangalli Beach the weekend before the election in 2016.

Five Things I’ve Learned From a Month Listening to Alex Jones

After Donald Trump won, I had a bit of a crisis.

I went, “God damn. I listen to podcasts four hours a day. They were all wrong. I read news in four languages, every single day. I didn’t know this was going to happen. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck….” They kept saying the polls were wrong. They kept saying that Trump would win. I dismissed it as drivel.

Election Day found me with my forehead on the floor in our locked teachers’ closet, NPR’s livestream of the results in my ears.

And then I thought, “Well, maybe I was wrong.”

Thus began my month-long quest to understand the Trumpsters. I had already been talking to them online for a long time. At least since summer. I ask them the same questions over and over on Twitter.

“Hello there. Can this flaming liberal ask you a few questions about #Trump?”

“Thanks! How do you feel, now that the election is over? Are you happy? Did you feel confident it would go your way?”

“Do you personally know any immigrants? Have you ever applied for a work visa (or any other visa) in another country?”

“Do you hold a passport?”

“What do you hope to see in the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency?”

I don’t personally know anyone who voted for Trump. I am in my bubble. Therefore, those conversations on Twitter were my only window into a world I simply do not understand.

I started listening to The Alex Jones show on 10th November, 2016. It seemed the only rational response. Everyone I listened to was wrong. He was…right?

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Therefore….

for the last month, I have listened to The Alex Jones Show every day. For at least an hour. Every day.

The poison is real. I caught myself thinking, “chemtrails” when I saw a plane over Busan this week. I need to stop listening to this shit soon.

I have, however, learned a few things since I started listening to “The voice of the Resistance.” Find them below. Prepare your self-medicating alcohol now, mofos. To keep myself at a sane arm’s length from the bullshit quotes below, please know that anything in italics was not said by Yours Truly.

The advertising is woven into every single aspect of the show

“I buy some, I use some, I store some, Awesome! Lifesaving Bacon. Presidential Bacon. NASA-packed technology. ready to eat right out of the pack, or warm and serve!”

I shit you not, that is word-for-word with an advert that plays several times an episode on the Alex Jones Show.

Are you an infidel who needs to buy his wife body armour for unknown spurious reasons? Look no further than the DNA Force-Hawking Snake Oil Salesman tactics of Alex Jones and his ilk. Every ten minutes there is a commercial break, which is usually the same tired thing over and over in Jones’ voice.

“When the telomeres run out, you start dyin’… And if you buy this product…I mean, we fight the Infowar! We fight the globalists!”

And other conveniently misinterpreted sciencey-sounding bullshit. Yay. Since December rolled into town, Alex has doubled down on the advertising and now spends about five-ten minutes of the parts of the show *between* commercial breaks to talk about all the amazing sales they have going on.

It’s all personal to Alex

He gets offended over things that wouldn’t draw a blush on the greenest ESL teacher in Pusan. Somebody called me a mean name. Time to set the social media dogs on them!

The UN and the Communist Chinese are trying their hardest to censor Alex Jones!!!!!! OH THE HUMANITY

He got featured on SNL this week and he played the whole segment with his own voiceover all over the shop. He’s really angry about being in the slightly satirical piece (which, if you want to hear a searing account of how SNL’s satire is completely toothless and needs to shape the fuck up in the face of a Trump Administration…listen to this biting podcast by Malcolm Gladwell from the summer!).

His response? To say that they aren’t even funny. I swear to god, my kindergarteners sling better insults in their second motherfucking language.

He says the same lines over and over and over

and over and over and over…especially about his show’s numbers and how he’s beating NPR and CNN and the BBC (whoever happens to run an article about him that week).

“We’re making freedom go viral.”

“You’re the fake news! You are the fake news!”

“This is a hell of a time to be alive.”

“They’re openly trying to steal this election.”

This is a slightly silly article here on RR, but let’s get serious for a moment. This is the mark of propaganda. People respond to hearing the same things repeated. It makes the incredible seem credible.

He’s Still Pushing Birtherism

Yes. In the twilight of 2016. Alex Jones still believes that Obama “wears a Muslim ring” and was born in Kenya.

For fuck’s sake. Your candidate, with whom you claim to have a privileged relationship, admitted he was wrong about Obama being born in the USA.

This week, Jones invited ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Arizona on to the show to specifically contest the outgoing President’s birth certificate (Jones calls it “as fake as a three dollar bill.”).

I don’t know, you guys. I just don’t know.

He has a very foul, violent mouth

the day after the election:

“They thought they had us in a chokehold, but actually we have them in a chokehold…and we need to keep squeezing until the lights go out of their eyes.

Enemies might be his favourite word:

“Defending America from enemies both foreign and domestic…”

He advocates violence against those he deems enemies. So……

He’s a Good Laugh at Times

I cut my finger off 13 years ago but this BioPQQ has totally regrown the nerves.

BAHAHAHAHA WTF I’M DYING

To be clear, I am not laughing at the thought of Alex Jones cutting off his finger.

That is unfortunate. I am laughing that he thinks severed nerves were regrown by his snake oil. And I’m also laughing so that I don’t burst into tears that MILLIONS of people are listening to his show and believing his bullshit.

When I lived in Italy, I used to watch Striscia La Notizia. It’s an Italian show that once had dancing half-naked ladies in the opening, but which mostly is known for political and cultural satire. In Italy, one has so much political bullshit that one must laugh for fear of crying. I now understand. I try so hard. I need to laugh. Laugh!

We are now in the era of the American Berlusconi.

He’s obsessed with making refrences to 80s movies like Terminator, Star Wars, ET and He also made a movie

“When I was a kid, it was ok to be proud of the red white and blue. Mom and apple pie. And beef was what’s for supper. You want to shed some tears for the Red White and Blue?”

The movie is called REVELATION: The Dawn of Global Governance and stars Alex Jones, Charlie Daniels, and others of his ilk. I hesitate to post the trailer here because it’s all obviously bullshit, but there you go.


To be serious for a moment here, in a listicle that I hate….but I am forced to use now that it’s 2016…

I’d like to post this here, to do homage to my BBC friends. The tradition of sceptical inquiry in the face of bullshit is a uniquely British tradition.

As a nomad, I am an avowed globalist. I believe that national borders are bullshit made-up things that disadvantage us all. I have a binational, no-thank-you-we-are-global-citizens family that is directly affected by people voting against immigration in the USA and the UK (and elsewhere, since we are chased elsewhere by those who would seek to restrict us further, when we are already unable to earn enough money to afford a family life in our ‘home countries’). I think that ‘global governance’ with a strong element of municipal control is the best thing that could happen to humans. Global norms, local control. Boom. 21st century, solved.

I am your worst nightmare, Alex Jones.

New Weekly Post: Top Trumps

Donald J. Trump is the president-elect of the United States. I am in deep mourning about this, like many. My small-scale resistance starting this week: a list of the bullshit he has wrought upon us all this week,  accompanied by the video of me burning him in effigy on 5 November.

Week of 4 December 2016

  • The media keep flubbing about saying that Trump’s opinion on whatever will surely not be what he has said it was over and over and over again during the campaign.
  • Trump suggested during a ‘thank you’ tour that he will appoint a former general to Secretary of Defense. This breaks with tradition from literally the beginning of the USA, when Washington explicitly put the military’s control in civilian hands to avoid, you know…juntas and shit. Mattis would be the first general since George Marshall to serve in a Presidential cabinet so recently after leaving the military.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/504274577/504274578

  • Trump called the President of Taiwan, breaking more than 35 years of Chinese-American understanding about how to deal with that particular issue. Then denied his people set up the call, and then whined about the attention he received on Twitter. This is the new normal.
  •  Speaking of Twitter whining, the POTUS-Elect also complained that he totally won the popular vote in the election, if one discounts the “millions” of people who voted illegally. There is no evidence…repeat, no evidence….repeat, nothing to suggest…repeat, nothing at all provided by the Trump administration to support this idea. But hey, we live in the post-fact era. I suppose if he says that millions voted illegally, then they must have magically done so. I mean, why would he lie to us?
  • Trump held rallies on a ‘Thank You’ tour which is totally not gloating or sktechily looking like a Nazi rally…oh, no. Why campaign when the campaign’s over? Why not? It’s a brave new world after November 9th. For those who think Trump as POTUS will finally, mercifully pivot to normal…nope.
  •  Trump stated that those who burn the American flag should face jail time or loss of American citizenship. I wonder what he thinks of burning him in effigy?

This is a weekly post for the foreseeable future in which I summarise what new hells Trump has visited upon us all in a convenient bulleted list. I follow this with the video of me burning him in effigy on Gwangalli Beach the weekend before the election in 2016. I refuse to normalise his rule.