Young Australians are under copious amounts of stress – social, physical and financial. Many believe they will be worse off over their lifetimes, and want action.

They’re also a politically active group with a strong civic and participatory outlook. But this can be misunderstood. Some of the myths about them are: They’re lazy and narcissistic.

They’re lazy

The number of people doing trade apprenticeships has halved in the past five years. And older Australians have strong opinions about why this is, ranging from a lack of discipline and courtesy to young people’s inability to get off their phones.

Having the right education is an excellent start, but finding the right job in Australia’s rapidly changing economy can be difficult. And it’s not just the entry-level jobs like a shop assistant or Uber Eats driver that are becoming harder to find, it’s also higher-level jobs.

Those struggling to secure full-time work are therefore staying at home for longer. But they’re not the ‘lazy millennials’ that click-bait headlines from Boomer-biased media would have us believe. Instead they’re doing their best to make it in the world, despite being held back by a series of factors. Many have even reported food insecurity in the past 12 months. And some have experienced living on welfare.

They’re narcissistic

If you think young Australians are vain, self-obsessed and materialistic with an infuriating sense of entitlement, you’re not alone. A US study by psychologist Jean Twenge claims this generation is suffering from an ‘epidemic of narcissism’.

The study found a number of factors contributed to the rise in narcissism, including easy access to bank loans, celebrity culture and social media. It also pinpointed parenting styles that emphasize children’s self-esteem as a major driver.

However, it’s important to distinguish between overt and covert narcissists. The former are obvious and unmistakable – think the obnoxious, attention-grabbing types on social media that bray for likes and shares or those who use fear and guilt-tripping to manipulate others. The latter are more dangerous and often harder to detect. They could be someone who berates their friends for their looks or body, ruminates about their own successes in life or carries on with a toxic friendship group.

They’re disenfranchised

As the most privileged, least economically disadvantaged, most educated and highest enrolment age cohort in Australia’s history, young people deserve to have their voices heard and a say in the affairs of the nation. Their participation is essential to democracy, and their right to vote is recognised by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as an inalienable human right.

Despite electoral disengagement, their overwhelming involvement in single-issue movements like the same-sex plebiscite and national climate protests proves that young Australians care about politics. Rather than reading their decline in turnout as a rejection of democracy, perhaps the problem lies in key policy-making institutions’ failure to cater for their needs.

This paper draws on the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) people-centred data to provide a picture of young Australians. It focuses on seven areas of concern – social support, education, employment, income and finance, housing, and justice and safety.

They’re disconnected

A recent survey by headspace revealed that young Australians lack companionship, feel left out and are missing out on the experiences that define their youth – such as travelling. The research also shows that almost two-thirds of those aged 15 to 25 think they will be worse off than their parents in the future.

The young people surveyed are particularly disconnected from political debate and have no idea who they’ll vote for in September’s federal election. The Australia Institute spoke to some of them, and found that they don’t discuss politics with their family or friends and are sceptical of what they see on social media.

This disconnect is exacerbated by the fact that many young people are living in poverty. They struggle to pay their rent, cover transport and living costs and are relying on gig work, which often leaves them vulnerable to unfavorable working conditions. The result is that a quarter of young Australians have gone without food at least once in the past year.