December 8, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

Young Boomers – broke and jobless in the 80s

3 min read
Young Boomers in the 1980s weren't all rich and privileged - millions were out of work and in poverty, as Tony McMahon discovers
Boomers 80s

This is a fascinating interview below (see video) with a group of young people on Irish TV in 1983. They would have been born in the early to mid 1960s and like many working class youth in the 80s were out of work and bored senseless. This busts the myth I hear so often today that all young Boomers in the 80s were rolling in wealth, shares, property and opportunity. Some were. Many were not.

Listening to the first chap – the punk – is a strong flashback to the time. He and his mates looked different and so got barred from pubs and clubs – and “discotheques”. Unable to socialise indoors, they’d hang out in a public place and then be reported to the cops as a nuisance. Many youth centres and community venues were the victim of cutbacks in local government spending. So, that option for going out had disappeared. There was a single pub that they could drink in without ending up in a fight.

It’s noticeable that two of the young people are unemployed with clearly no prospect of finding work. The punk guy just seemed to be housebound most of the time and with no money. He was living on about eight pounds a week after giving some of his dole money to his mother. That kind of financial constraint would now be hell on earth but was pretty common at the time.

Teenagers didn’t spend that much on clothes – a tenner a year the punk says – and there was a ‘make do and mend’ mentality. Things were just worn until they fell apart. Although the mod and the fashion student clearly cared more about their appearance but it would have been done on a minimal budget. I remember people relied a lot more on second hand clothes shops, which aren’t really a feature of the high street as they once were.

Attitudes to parents were rather cold and distant by today’s standards. Asked about his Mum, the punk says he has no significant feelings towards her other than the fact that she’s his Mum. Though he does love her.

80s young Boomers – aggro on the streets

What’s very sad is the aggression that these young people faced over the way they dressed. Being a Goth or a punk or a Mod in the early 80s was a green light for some thugs to go into attack mode. The violence was just insane. In the 80s, we wrote it off as being a tribal fashion thing. But looking back, I think there was a weird mix of homophobia, sadism and just outright thuggishness. Born to a degree from the much more macho culture around masculinity. Anybody challenging gender stereotypes was living dangerously in 1983.

And officialdom was so weirdly patronising and insulting. The TV presenter here struggles with the idea of nose studs, make up and dyed hair. Young Boomers in the 80s had to contend with a previous generation that was had gone through national service in the army or even fought in the Second World War. Many thought we should also have forced on to a parade ground to sort us out. There was still very much a “get yer ‘air cut” attitude from older people.

DISCOVER: Irish skinheads, rude boys and punks

But what’s very noticeable is that the fashion student for example is clearly a bright and talented chap with a dry sense of humour who refuses to be reduced to a figure of fun. Like the others, they’re effectively on trial as freaks to be mocked by a mass audience. Even despite the fact they were basically unemployed young Boomers struggling to lead purposeful lives. Personally I find it quite sad to watch – be interested to know what you think.

I’d also like this TV clip and other posts on the blog to once and for all explode this nonsense that all Boomer youth had it good in the 80s. The reality was way more mixed and nuanced.

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