FORGET trees. The biggest concern for the next generation is finding a job to support their families.
The economy has overtaken the environment as the most pressing concern for the young, according to a survey of 15,000 people aged 15 to 19.
The environment was the top national concern in the past two National Youth Surveys conducted by Mission Australia but its 11th annual report found it had slipped to sixth place this year, with only 17.5 per cent of respondents saying it was the most important issue facing the country, compared with 37.4 per cent who made the same comment last year.
The organisation's national manager of research, Bronwen Dalton, said the environment had been usurped by more immediate worries. ''The environment has been crowded out by this really dominant concern about the economy,'' she said.
Many young people said they would have to find work to support their families or expressed anxiety about their parents losing their jobs.
Maddy Stedman, 17, of Leichhardt, said that while she was concerned about the environment, job prospects took precedence.
''I think environmental concerns are perceived as a bit of a First World problem,'' she said.
''When people are losing their jobs or finding it hard to get a job, the environment takes a back seat. The reality of needing to earn a living overrides the environment.''
Her friend Fred Greer, 17, of Newtown, agreed, saying young people had suffered environmental overload in the past 12 months.
''I think people are getting sick of it because Tony Abbott has been going on such a tirade about the carbon tax,'' he said.
However, Camilla May, 17, of Annandale, said the environment was more important to her than the economy. ''The environment is important to me personally,'' she said. ''People don't really recognise how badly it could go.''
Dr Dalton said those surveyed were keenly aware of the global economic downturn and how it was affecting them.
''What stood out to us was these heart-wrenching comments about how they have got to get a job to support their families or mum and dad are out of work and they need to do more to keep the family afloat,'' she said.
''It was very troubling to see that young people were so concerned with financial security.''
She said the decrease in young people's worry about the environment would be of concern to green groups. But, she said, young people were not disengaged from the issue - more than a quarter were participating in environmental activities.