Mom, Dad, I'm Home!

The dismal job market has forced many un- or under-employed twenty-somethings to move back in with their parents. And that may not be so bad. The secret upside to a down economy.

by Lindsy Van Gelder
Photograph: Photo by Phil Toledano.

In the sweep of history, our most intimate relationships are often left in the dust. Who would have imagined, when the interstate highway system was created in the ’50s, that one of its legacies would be the diaspora of the extended family? When people whose families had lived in one place for generations could relocate easily, often they did. The feminist movement was another game changer. As women’s job opportunities (and expectations of help at home) began to grow, divorce rates started to skyrocket. And in yet another example of huge external forces affecting family life, the post-crash economy is now radically changing the relationship between parents and their adult children.

Start with the numbers: One in five 25- to 34-year-olds is living at home today, and an even larger proportion of that age group is not financially independent. A 2009 Purdue University study showed that 79 percent of young adults (mean age: 25.2) got money from their parents at least once a year; 48 percent received money every month. For parents who still own the big-enough houses their children grew up in, letting the kids move back often seems like a no-brainer.

Many of these young adults are unemployed, and in this economy they might spend dispiriting months squirreled up in their childhood rooms in their pajamas, sending hundreds of résumés into cyberspace without getting a nibble. Of those who do have jobs, many are underemployed. In a recent Charles Schwab online survey, only 28 percent of those living at home were jobless. Most of the rest were working but couldn’t afford to strike out on their own. College graduates in many fields are now asked to work for nothing, as a way to get a foot in the door—but often, when their time is up, they aren’t offered a job; they’re simply replaced by the next wave of cheap labor. Or they may be burdened with a level of college-loan debt that was unheard of in their parents’ day. The cost of tuition jumped 439 percent from 1982 to 2008, compared with a 147 percent increase in median family income; over the past decade, student borrowing has more than doubled. Even finding paid work doesn’t solve everything. Twenty-somethings are frequently overqualified for the entry-­level jobs they snag—and still unable to earn anywhere near enough to be self-supporting.

Given the difficulties these young adults face, it’s not surprising that their parents step in and help. But for many families, a gesture born of love, kindness and obligation—where else are your kids going to go? Where else would you want them to go?—brings in its wake a complicated mix of emotions and practical concerns. And some effects are surprisingly positive. As one mother put it, “I pretty much know what my husband is going to say in any given situation. Having my son around has been terrific. It’s great to have another interesting adult at the dinner table.”

Most women never expected to share a home with their adult ­children—partly because when these mothers were young, they fought hard for their independence. “To us, moving back home was the last thing we would ever do,” says Elaine Mills, an illustrator from Stonington, Connecticut, whose 33-year-old daughter is living with her while she goes back to school. Many women now in this cohort got out of their own parents’ homes in part because it was the only way they could carry on a sex life; today it’s assumed that young unmarried adults aren’t celibate, no matter where they live. So if a mother is dealing with an adult child still at home, she’s probably also dealing with that kid’s significant other, which often causes strain. “I’m not crazy about my daughter’s boyfriend,” says one woman. “I don’t like the way he talks down to her when he’s here, and it’s hard for me to watch the way they interact. I’m trying to stay out of it, but it’s tough not to eavesdrop when you’re living in the same house.”

First Published February 14, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!

Comments


To kkl224@yahoo.com YOU ARE SPOT ON! I'm 42 yrs. old and remember the way it used to be. We are breeding generations of people who "feel" entitled! Guess what? ...Time to get back to realistic living and stop all the wasteful government spending!

Kate Leiner02.13.2011

Yes, there are many twenty-somethings out of work but how can you talk about how under-employed they are? Today's workplace moves at lightspeed and requires a significant committment of time, energy and experience to be successful. These kids are not under-employed because they have no experience. Graduating from college demonstrates the fact that you have a good memory and enough discipline to do the work but it doesn't qualify as experience. These kids are short on track record and expertise but long on entitlement and that is the problem. And the parents aren't offering a solution.
Most older adults have seen their 401K's decimated by recent events so why are they making regular handouts to their kids? Why are the kids taking them? I'm a single 46 year old professional woman who earns a comfortable living but I remember being an inexperienced twenty-something. I worked retail until I found a "real job" and lived in a $163 month studio apartment that barely qualified as decent. I didn't own a car because I couldn't afford one and when I did buy a car it was old, used and cheap to repair. The used cars got nicer over the years but I never bought a luxury car (and never will) and didn't buy my first brand new car until I paid cash for my Honda Accord three years ago.
These kids need to learn to live within their means and pay their dues in the workforce. If they can't afford a smart phone they shouldn't buy one. Same goes for cable. They can't waste time on Twitter and Facebook when they could spend that time doing an internship or helping out in a non-profit in their area of professional interest. Those activities would give these kids the type of marketable skills they need to find a job because once again, the books they read in college do NOT count as experience.
Also, twenty-somethings need to realize that there is something else at play here. No one can talk about it but in the back of every hiring manager's mind is age. People in their twenties are known for partying, dating, living free and doing as they please. It's great to be in your twentys but for an employer...younger people are riskier.
I'd pay a little more for someone older who is experienced, mature and settled rather than hire some young person who may call out when they're hungover or crawl in the morning after doing the walk of shame. I'll take the person who worries about their role as caretaker of their elderly parent over the person who will spend half the day trying to figure out why the guy of the moment didn't call. Is that fair? Probably not but it's realistic. Employers want productivity and proven performance and twenty somethings are simply too high risk.
These parents need to understand this and stop enabling their kids because in the long run they aren't helping them. American companies hired 1M people last year in this country while they sent 1.4M jobs overseas and our Government is doing nothing to stop it. The market will only become more competitive and these kids needs to develop their skillset, live on a tight budget and learn to roll with the punches because unless the Government steps up it is only going to get harder.

Post new comment

Click to add a comment