As we pointed out yesterday, migration from Hong Kong to Taiwan has surged this year – but not solely because the streets of Hong Kong have been clogged with protesters since June. Young Hong Kongers, like their American counterparts living in San Francisco and Brooklyn, are struggling with the twin burdens of managing rent in one of the world’s most unaffordable cities. But unlike young Americans, Hong Kongers are also struggling against the creeping authoritarianism from Beijing.
This prompted Bloomberg to name Hong Kong’s millennials “the generation with no hope.”
And its latest profile begins with the story of Billy Tung, a 28-year-old accountant who regularly works weekends, but barely makes enough to share a small apartment that’s been partitioned into six bedrooms.
Like many young workers in his situation, Tung is contemplating a move to Taiwan, where housing is more affordable, and which has a much lower cost of living.
Like many Hong Kongers of his generation, Tung finds it hard to save even while he carefully watches his spending on a day-to-day basis, which is why he’s been toying with the idea of moving to Taiwan. “I don’t want to spend the next 10 years working just to give it all away to Hong Kong real estate developers,” he said.
In a description that, probably intentionally, reflects the US, BBG writes about the “cardboard grannies” – elderly poor who have been reduced to picking through trash and recyclables – and a sense of aspirational living that has given way to hopelessness.
And this has been facilitated by a growing lack of economic and political self-determination felt by Hong Kongers.
Hong Kong has long been a land of contrasts in which glittering skyscrapers and chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royces are juxtaposed with decrepit apartment blocks and “cardboard grannies” picking through rubbish in search of recyclables. An aspiration for a share of those riches has been replaced by a growing sense of hopelessness.
Ho-Fung Hung, a professor in political economics who’s a China expert at Johns Hopkins University, says the economic malaise, combined with a perceived loss of cultural identity and frustration at a lack of political voice, is driving young people into the streets. “Participants come from all economic backgrounds,” says Hung. “What binds them together is a shared sense that there is no future for them in Hong Kong. Compared with their parents, they will live a lower quality of life.”
Median property prices in Hong Kong are roughly 21x median household incomes, which is more than Vancouver and Sydney, which come in around 13x and 11%. Meanwhile, wage growth in HK has slowed, while wage growth on the mainland has accelerated.
Huge demand, coupled with constrained supply in a market dominated by a handful of developers and cashed-up buyers from the mainland, has acted as a powerful cocktail to drive up house prices.
Wealthy shoppers from the mainland also drive up the prices of goods, as 1 in 5 Hong Kongers lives in poverty. Young people don’t have much trouble finding work, but too many jobs simply don’t pay a living wage.
As another young freelance worker complained, it’s impossible to survive in HK without support from her family. She’s worried that, when she finally marries, she “won’t have enough for a decent wedding banquet.”
Sze Chan, a 20-year-old who designs menus for restaurants on a freelance basis, has been on the front lines of the protests in recent weeks as police fired tear gas. “Young people in Hong Kong are very confused about the future,” she says. “Unless you get support from your family, it’s impossible for one to live. And with so little left every month, you can’t even have a decent wedding banquet when you marry, let alone buy a home.”
Chan at least has the option of still living at home, without which things would be much tougher. “The young people go on the streets not just because of the political situation—the government’s inability to address social issues plays a role, too. If it’s just about the extradition bill, there wouldn’t be so many people out protesting,” she says.
Yet, unlike their counterparts in the US, Hong Kongers haven’t embraced Communism and Socialism…despite having the world’s largest socialist power breathing down their necks.