Young adults in Malaysia struggling to make ends meet with rising cost of living

Young adults in Malaysia struggling to make ends meet with rising cost of living
Barely getting by: Graduates who enter the workforce with a starting salary of just RM2,000 (S$719), find it insufficient.

EMILY*, a 22-year-old company executive, hasn't had a day off in the past four months.

She has been working two jobs since she graduated with a first-class honours degree in English Language and Communication in March.

Emily juggles her weekdays as a company executive and teaching English on weekends at a tuition centre because she does not have enough to cover her cost of living.

"I live in a rented room and my life is like a robot's - work, home, work, home.

"There is no time for shopping. I just make do with what I have," says Emily, whose family is in Perak.

Scoring a 3.87 CGPA in university helped to waive her education loan but Emily has found that getting good grades alone is not enough to make it today.

Among her monthly expenses are her car loan repayment of RM700 (S$252), RM300 for petrol, RM150 for insurance fees, room rental and phone bill.

She has to cover all these with her day job salary of RM2,500. Her teaching job brings in just RM500.

Her story echoes that of Siti Azzahra Abd Razly.

Popularly known as Zahra, the 23-year-old law graduate became a social media hit after a video of her impassioned speech on her financial struggles became viral.

In the video, she tells a crowd, which includes Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, that she is struggling to survive as she has to fork out RM500 a month to borrow her father's car and another RM500 to rent a house with seven others.

And buying a house is a far away dream, says Zahra: "Belajar tinggi-tinggi, akhirnya mengemis juga (Despite having a high level of education, we end up being poor)."

Her despair has struck a chord with many Malaysians but some have pointed out that Zahra needs to manage her expectations as a fresh graduate and urged her to be grateful for even having a job.

Malaysian Trade Union Congress secretary-general N. Gopal Kishnam agrees that having a university degree is not enough anymore as degree holders are not paid according to their qualifications.

"Graduates are entering the workforce today with a salary of RM2,000. It is insufficient.

"Some need to repay their study loan. It also does not help that the present state of public transportation is wanting. As such, some have to resort to buying cars."

The Government has to "put things in order" so that Malaysia can become a high income society by 2020, says Gopal Kishnam.

"The Government needs to go back to the root cause - workers are not earning enough. They should urge employers to increase salaries," he says.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan notes that the price of many products and services have increased, especially with the Goods and Services Tax and the significant drop in the value of the ringgit.

"A fresh graduate in the early 1980s or 1990s could cover most of their needs with their starting pay.

"But now, most of them do not have spare cash to give to their parents. Instead, their parents need to help out, like giving them the down payment for a car," he says.

He adds that those who want to buy houses get help from their parents to fork out the deposit and even cover some of the monthly instalments.

Shamsuddin points out that employers also face difficulties, and disagrees that salaries are too low.

He says it is now "an employer's market" - companies have a lot of choices when it comes to job candidates.

This is especially so after the Government decided to freeze hiring in the public service in May.

"Normally, about 10 per cent of fresh graduates will be employed in the public sector but now, they are left to seek other options."

With the uncertainty in the economy, Shamsuddin says that some employers are retrenching and choosing between hiring workers on short-term contracts or not replacing those who have left.

He says that graduates who are able to secure jobs in today's scenario would be considered lucky.

He urges graduates to be more competitive in the job market by brushing up on their English as a weak command of the language is still a stumbling block.

"The attitude of expecting handouts and assistance all the time is not correct.

"Graduates these days need to work harder and show the necessary level of performance and productivity.

"If their performance is outstanding, then employers should reward them accordingly," Shamsuddin says.

He adds that graduates should also learn to adjust their lifestyle to their means.

Deputy Finance Minister Datuk Ahmad Maslan says fresh graduates like Zahra should be realistic and not expect to get everything immediately upon graduation.

"I am a rubber tapper's son. When I graduated, I had to take a bus. When the bus didn't stop directly at my destination, I had to walk to the office.

"More time is needed before one can save up to buy a car and house. You will not automatically get everything after graduating," he says.

Malaysians should practise better financial management to deal with the rising cost of living, he adds.

*Not her real name

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