The Boomerang generation: Living at home after college
My close friend Sarah’s 28-year-old son is still living at home. He went away for college, but ended up back in his childhood room after graduation. Why? For one, he graduated in 2009, which was a terrible year for college graduates looking for work. Furthermore, he had no idea what kind of career or vocation he might pursue. Living rent free at his parent’s made sense to everyone while he figured it out. The problem—six years later he doesn’t seem any closer to knowing what he wants to do when he grows up!
Adam Davidson’s article (New York Times, June 20, 2014, “It’s Official: The Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave”) follows the lives of several young adults who are still living at home. He notes that one in five young adults is living in their ancestral home with their moms and dads. A whopping sixty percent of twenty and thirty somethings receive financial support from their parents.
My wife and I helped our older daughter, in her late 20’s at the time, pay for her health insurance for a few years when she was working several part time jobs with no benefits. After all, if she got really sick and didn’t have insurance, we would end up paying for her health care. We also helped pay for her post college schooling too. We felt that this support was a good investment in her future.
We are not the exception these days. Kids born in the 1980’s and early 90’s graduated college with enormous student loans. Nearly 45% of 25-year-olds have an average college debt above $20,000! While a college degree is necessary these days, graduating from college does not qualify you for much. Sarah’s son had trouble finding a job bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. It makes simple economic sense for college graduates to live at home, while they look for work and pay back loans.
Are these “boomerang kids” a blip on the socio-economic scene or do they herald a new, more permanent trend? The high cost of college, including public schools, isn’t going away. Most kids have to take out student loans. The cost of housing, as a percentage of income, continues to rise. And more education and training is required to obtain high paying jobs. All of these factors delay the ability of young adults to support themselves and live independently.
I graduated college in 1973 during a recession as bad or worse than the most recent downturn. I chose to go to graduate school as an alternative to unemployment. I did wrack up big student loans, but I also obtained a professional degree that enabled me to pay them back and live independently. I was fortunate that I had a clear vision at 21 of what I wanted to do as an adult. But if I hadn’t, I would have joined the ranks of the under or unemployed. Fortunately, housing then was less expensive.
Davidson observes that most boomerang kids and their parents are struggling to make sense of this new post college “living at home” life stage. Is this a sign of a “failure to launch”? Or is it a practical long-term financial strategy?
According to Davidson, there are powerful socio-economic forces at play. There is a growing gap between the very rich and the poor while the middle class is shrinking in size. For much of American history, each generation was wealthier than the generation before it. But now, there is much more “downward mobility”. High paying manufacturing jobs, once plentiful in the United States, have been moved outside of our shores. Even well paying white-collar jobs are sent overseas, like the ubiquitous “call-centers” in India.
This trend is challenging for parents and young adults alike. How do we “parent” a 25 year old living at home? What are reasonable expectations for sharing household responsibilities? Should we charge them rent? How much financial help should we provide? When is this support “enabling” and when is it “helping”?
Lets hear your stories.