Leaving nest isn’t easy for millennials
Despite an improving economy, many young adults struggling to get decent-paying jobs are increasingly seeking refuge at their parents’ homes.
Employment hasn’t rebounded among Americans ages 18 to 31, the generation generally known as millennials. Marriage also has been pushed off. And what jobs are available often are lower-paying retail, fast-food and other service jobs.
“When my parents were my age, they had their own place already, and they came from Mexico,” said Patricia Guerra, 24, who lives with her parents in Ontario.
“I’m a U.S. citizen with a college degree -- and it’s really hard for me to achieve that for myself at this point,” she said.
As the Federal Reserve considers weaning the nation from financial life support, a new study released Thursday by Pew Research Center shows that the number of young adults living with their parents in 2012 rose to a record 36%.
Last year, 21.6 million millennials lived in their parents’ homes, Pew found, up from 18.5 million in 2007, the start of the Great Recession.
The numbers reflect the unsteady reality of millennials today.
Some experts believe the rising numbers living with mom or dad could be another sign of changing attitudes toward adulthood, as millennials edge more slowly toward independence than their parents.
Fortunately for them, young adults and their parents have less friction than generations past, softening the idea of staying in the nest, other surveys suggest. In a recent Clark University poll, parents were almost as likely to say their grown children lived with them because “we get along well” than because their kids were financially strapped.
“It’s really surprisingly harmonious,” said Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, co-author of “When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?” “Parents and their grown kids are more like friends than has ever been true before.”
But it’s the economy that more often is pushing that relationship.
Esmael Adibi, a Chapman University economist, cited the weak economy as the main reason why many young adults move back into their parents’ homes.
Although the trend isn’t bad, it doesn’t bode well for economic growth. Economists have warned that the rate at which new households are forming has fallen as the recession forced many to squeeze into homes initially meant for single families.
“We need household formation to create demand for housing,” Adibi said. “It doesn’t matter if they rent or buy.... All of that is obviously good for the economy.”
New households spur more consumer spending, particularly for durable goods such as refrigerators, washers and dryers.
Unemployed millennials are more likely to live at home, according to Pew. Its survey found that 63% of millennials held jobs last year, down from 70% in 2007.
The report also showed that those ages 18 to 24 were more likely to live at home than those 25 to 31. The data showed that 56% of the younger subset lived at home versus 25% of the older group.
Education also played a role in whether a millennial lived at home, Pew said. Only 18% of those with a four-year college degree lived at home compared with 40% of those with only a high school education. And Pew noted that growing college enrollment may be contributing to the increase because students living in dorms count as living with their parents.
Even if jobs, marriage and college enrollment had held steady during the recession, more millennials would be living with their parents than before the downturn, Pew found. That suggests that something else has changed as well, though Pew couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.
“There’s been a clear shift in behavior that is not fully explained” by jobs, marriage or college enrollment, said Richard Fry, a senior research associate at Pew.
Although the growing numbers of millennials living with their parents have set off alarm bells among economists, not all experts see it as a bad thing.
Years ago, “everyone was bemoaning the decline of the family,” said Frank Furstenberg, a University of Pennsylvania sociology professor. “Here’s a case where the family is alive and well.”
And for many struggling people, he said, it’s the only place they can go.
When Jenna Gilliam reeled from a breakup, her mother urged her to come home to save money and bounce back.
The 24-year-old who left college juggles a job at a tanning salon with caring for her ailing father in San Dimas.
She said she and her mother have become closer, though she chafes at her mother checking up on her.
In El Monte, 22-year-old Genesis Tenorio rejoined her parents to save money as she applies for law school. Her father, Jose Luis Tenorio, treasures their chats over breakfast and enthuses about her plans. And she said she feels content at home.
The shame once tied to returning home has dissipated. Young adults living with their parents were about as satisfied as those living alone, Pew found in an earlier study.
A recent poll by TB Ameritrade Holding Corp. found that teens and those in their 20s pegged the average age when they would be embarrassed to be living at home at 28.
“Some folks, back in the day, would go, ‘Oh, you’re not a grown-up’ if you’re still living with your parents,” said Ansley Jean-Jacques, 25, a community organizer who decided to move back in after college to help his mother. “People don’t really look at it like that anymore.”
Even loving families, though, can strain at becoming a safety net.
Nearly half of middle-aged Americans are sandwiched by the financial needs of their aging parents and their children at the same time, with growing pressure to help grown children, Pew found this year.
In households where adults live with their parents, younger adults have become more financially dependent on their parents than in the past, University of Maryland researchers found in a recent study tracking Census Bureau data from 1960 to 2010.
When the recession first hit, “people thought this was temporary,” said Nona Willis Aronowitz, a fellow with the progressive Roosevelt Institute. “Now it feels like the new normal.”