Photo: Millennials are alleging exploitation in the "gig economy", but they're also it's main customers. (triple j Hack: Avani Dias)
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According to The Jetsons, the problems of the 21st century were meant to be your robot servant losing a screw or your flying car not being as flashy as your neighbour's.Instead, millennials have been gifted some spectacular challenges to wade through.
From the astronomical cost of housing to the fast-disappearing security of a full-time job, many aged 22 to 36 are facing a worse financial outlook than their parents.
A 2017 study by Credit Suisse revealed that despite millennials being more educated and trained than their parents, they are not able to transform that education into high-paying or stable jobs.
Enter, the 'gig economy'Against this backdrop, a new breed of businesses has emerged to tempt those who are least able to defend themselves from exploitation. Many millennials struggling to find a job in their chosen field have turned to the "gig economy" to pay their rent.
Popular "disruptors" such as Uber, Deliveroo and Foodora provide customers with convenience and lower prices than their traditional competitors. They also stand accused of employing workers on sham contracts, paying below the minimum wage — sometimes as low as $6 an hour — and terminating workers who dare to question their contracts.
Delivery drivers and cyclists have staged protests demanding better government protection in the face of these alleged "sham" contracts.
Yet the very generation being exploited by these businesses are the customers supporting them. It's a virtuous cycle: time-poor and cash-strapped millennials turn to gig-economy businesses for cheaper and more convenient service.
But as we know, there's no such thing as a free, or heavily discounted, lunch.Someone is paying the cost, whether it's our fellow workers, or in the case of the big data scandal engulfing Facebook, ourselves. There is always an exchange of power for lower prices or access to something for free, whether it be giving away our data, or the entitlements that came with the old jobs market.
Why millennials love Uber EatsAs the economy continues to squeeze younger generations, affordable luxuries such as home-delivered food are increasingly popular, especially for a food-conscious demographic working long or irregular hours. Research from Roy Morgan shows that 73.3 per cent of Uber's customers are aged 34 and under, and that it is millennials changing food and restaurant trends, whether it be the rise of "cronuts" or demand for healthier foods.
It's easy to argue that millennials shouldn't be wasting their insecure income on restaurant meals. But this ignores a reality of consumer behaviour: that in tough economic times, people crave "affordable luxuries".
The "lipstick index" is a term coined by Leonard Lauder when he was chairman of Estee Lauder. He noticed that lipsticks sales boom during times of recession, presumably because more extravagant purchases like a new dress or shoes become unaffordable.
For millennials, a gourmet burger or a comfortable ride across town take the place of lipstick: small comforts that offset long hours and suffocating rents.
Photo: Can't afford a house? Smother your sorrows with a gourmet burger instead. (Supplied: (Yelp) Noah E)
Millennial activism stops hereThere is a growing gap between many millennials' awareness and activism on social problems and their need or desire for cheap things. It could easily be labelled hypocrisy, but this ignores the reasons behind millennials' inability to "walk the walk".
While trying to keep costs down, we have unwittingly created a huge problem for our much-maligned generation.This is a problem unique to its time, and without any foreseeable changes to secure employment, workers and customers will remain hooked on the gig economy.
Earlier this month, unions kickstarted a new campaign against insecure work, which is finding support from those whose participation in "contract" work is being used as an excuse to underpay them and deny the security their parents enjoyed.
This campaign is a positive step, yet we must also acknowledge and address the factors driving millennials to prop up the gig economy with their purchases.
Alana Schetzer is a freelance writer and academic.