x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Parents are lifeline for 'boomerang' generation

A lack of jobs and poor pay for graduates in the United States has seen many return home after college.

Erin Steinke, 22, a recent graduate, holds two jobs but cannot afford to live independently.
Erin Steinke, 22, a recent graduate, holds two jobs but cannot afford to live independently.

DENVER // It used to be that you graduated from college, got a job and moved into a squalid apartment with friends, subsisting on ramen noodles and the idealism of youth. Now, with the economy in the doldrums, and one in 10 Americans unemployed, it is far more likely you will move back home with Mum and Dad.

"Emotionally, this can be pretty hard," says Erin Steinke, 22, who graduated from college last May with a degree in film. "You are raised your entire life to think you graduate, you get a job, you get married, have kids. I always assumed I would get some kind of awesome job after college, so this feels like a back step." Ms Steinke is not alone - either in living at home again, or in feeling bad about it.

The phenomenon of so-called "boomerang kids" returning to the nest after college began with the dotcom bust and widened over time with rising levels of credit card debt and student loans. By the time the US economy slid into recession this year, more than 60 per cent of recent college graduates were moving back home, according to Susan Shaffer, who co-wrote Mom, Can I Move Back in with You? A Survival Guide for Parents of Twentysomethings with Linda Perlman Gordon.

Part of the problem today is high unemployment among the under-30s, now above 11 per cent in much of the country, and more than 20 per cent in some. "And even when young people are getting jobs, they are not paying much, they are not secure and they are not paying healthcare benefits," Shaffer said. Despite the poor economy, the phenomenon has spawned a wave of soul-searching among parents and their boomerang offspring alike: Were they too spoiled as kids? Would they ever become independent and learn to save? Might this mean Mum and Dad never get to retire? Could this be the first generation of Americans who will not be better off than their parents?

Some blame an era of "helicopter hovering parents", as Shaffer puts it, who overprotected their children and indulged every whim. College did not help matters by providing internet, food, phones and 24-hour fitness centres. "With no skill sets to be on their own, it is a shock to their system to graduate from college and have all of that withdrawn," said her co-author, Gordon. "The economic downturn has extended the life of that cultural dependency."

Many young people bristle at the notion that their generation is not working hard. Ms Steinke, for example, holds down two jobs in video and TV production - one part-time, the other full-time - but says she still does not earn enough to live on her own. TJ Wihera, who writes a blog that aims to help connect young and older generations in the workforce, juggles four positions. But they acknowledge that internet, cellphones and iPods - items that would have been seen as luxuries for previous generations - are viewed as essential tools of daily life by this one, and critical to getting a job.

"It comes as a surprise how much all that stuff costs at first," Mr Wihera said. Experts say wages for new graduates have not kept pace with inflation in recent decades, meaning young people today earn comparatively less than previous generations did. "It is really, really hard to graduate into today's economic landscape. Kids have been told for years that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, but presently those expectations can be dashed pretty harshly," said Alexandra Robbins, the author of Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis: Advice From Twentysomethings Who Have Been There and Survived.

And even though it takes some adjustment to live at home again, young and old alike say they get along better, making the transition easier. Dave Steinke, Erin's father, said he and his wife Sue had got used to just caring for a dog and a cat. "Now there is a third adult in the house. It's not bad, it's just different," he said. Many parents struggle over whether to charge their adult children rent, or make them pay their share of bills, when the goal is to help them save money and get out on their own. Most, like the Steinkes, end up asking their returning college grad to assume certain household chores, such as cooking dinner certain nights of the week and taking care of the garden.

"You want them to manage their own life as much as possible," said Shaffer, "with an understanding that they are in your house." foreign.desk@thenational.ae