'Boomerang Generation' hurts the economy

Commentator Todd Buchholz says young adults who return home to live with their parents are sapping the economy of needed vitality.

Kai Ryssdal: A survey not too long ago from the Pew Research Center found most young adults 25 and older living with their parents were satisfied with the arrangement.

Commentator Todd Buchholz says that may -- or may not -- be great for families. For the economy, though, definitely not.

Todd Buchholz: Years ago on TV stations across America, the late evening news began with a question: "It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where your children are?"

I'm happy to say these days, most of the little kids are home tucked in their beds. Unfortunately, a lot of the older kids -- the 20-somethings -- are asleep on the sofa in the basement.

Call them "Boomerang Kids" or "Generation Y Bother," but young people today are 40 percent less likely to leave their home state than prior generations. In the most startling behavioral change among young people since Marlon Brando started mumbling, an increasing number don't even bother to get drivers licenses.

Sure, there are great things about families sticking together. The children can set the DVR, mom and dad can foot the cable bill.

But geographic mobility creates economic mobility.

Last month I was addressing a conference in San Antonio. A Florida engineer asked me what her stay-at-home, unemployed college grad should do. I asked: "Does he have a mortgage?"





"No, Joshy graduated a few years ago."

"Then tell Joshy to grab a cheap flight to Fargo, N.D. The unemployment rate is 3.9 percent. Joshy will nab a job as soon as the captain turns off the fasten seat belt sign."

I'm not saying that our miserable job market will be cured by doling out drivers licenses, but I am worried that an aversion to risk has crept into the psyches of our young people. Perhaps it's from overprotective parents who drive their Little Leaguers to first base in the minivan. Or maybe it's a lingering cloud of hopelessness despite the "hope and change" bumper stickers. But it's not healthy.

And governments make matters worse by setting up roadblocks. Almost one in four jobs requires a permit from a state agency. And most are not brain surgery! Heck, they're not even tree surgery. Say you want to move to Alabama to become a manicurist, you'll first need 750 hours of training.

We need to encourage mobility among our young people, not stagnation. Sometime the first rung on an economic ladder is hanging just above your parents' sofa-bed.

Ryssdal: Commentator Todd Buchholz was an economic adviser to the first President Bush. He's most recently the author of "Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race." Tell us what you think about anything you hear on the broadcast -- write to us.

About the author

Todd G. Buchholz is an American economist and author. He is a former senior economic adviser at the White House, a managing director of the $15 billion Tiger hedge fund, and an award-winning economics teacher.
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In response to Jack, Meg, Deborah, Peter, and Neal:

“Ye’re a sickly generation…your blood is pink,” whoops the aged Ephraim Cabot as he out-dances the much younger revelers at 3 AM in Eugene O’Neill’s DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS. He has spent a lifetime toiling with the unforgiving stones on his farm in 19th Century New England.
A generation earlier, Horace Greeley popularized the phrase “Go West, young man, go West.” And Mark Twain did head West as a pioneer riverboat pilot who became a newspaperman, who later as the father of modern American literature (according to Ernest Hemingway, who himself left home to fight in WW I and later to return penniless to Paris to revolutionize American literature) to send the restless Huck Finn down the Mississippi on a perilous journey with an escaped slave.
America’s history and literature are littered with those who risked their lives and fortunes to forge the nation that we have inherited: Ben Franklin and John Adams from Boston, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison from Virginia, Alexander Hamilton from St. Kitts in the Caribbean….need I go on…headed to Philadelphia.
When Joshy pulls himself away from “Tosh O” and “Jersey Shore,” inserts his earbuds attached to his Ipod, and heads West to the local mall to hang out with his “buds,” he will snigger at the obese teens that waddle by the storefronts he is haunting with his tattooed and pierced gang.
Yes, I know, this missive is a mass of generalizations so far, and will continue to be, but so are the so-called statistics and $$$$ you critics have provided. Yes, Meg, Josh may not have health insurance, and he may even be scoffing at “Obamacare,” and he may not have a “support system.” And yes, Deborah, “Sleeping on the floor is painful after a few nights.” But let me base the rest of my argument on personal experience and compare it with the travails that Josh may face.
My father borrowed money so that he could sleep on the floor traveling steerage in a ship that left Europe in the early part of the 20th Century. He had a 6th grade education but was able to find work as a coal miner, his lifetime occupation. During the great depression, he traveled throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, going from job to job as mines closed down, dislocating thousands of men like him. And yes, he spent time in jail twice, plunked there by the Pinkerton Detectives that clobbered and killed men fighting for a union. And yes, he worked the mine in Matewan, West Virginia, a town immortalized in a Hollywood movie. But he lost his occupation as a miner at the age of 60, when his mine was automated. Too young to collect Social Security, and too old to find a permanent job, he cut people’s lawns and trimmed their hedges, and his wife, my mother, cleaned other people’s houses to pay the mortgage and buy food.
So where does that leave me, who was 17 at the time, and graduating high school, living in the Ohio Valley in the ‘50’s during the spawning of the devolution of that part of America called the rust belt that spread to Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit? Where was my opportunity for college, or even the safety net of a fast-food restaurant, since they hadn’t been conceived yet? The outlet for my generation was the military. So I enlisted. Deborah, try sleeping in a barracks filled with snoring, teeth grinding strangers from every corner of America, lying awake wondering when your orders will be cut sending you to the war in Korea. Yes, I survived my tour of duty to write this rebuttal to Todd’s critics. I survived to receive the largesse of the GI Bill, finish college, leave a ravaged Ohio Valley and find work elsewhere.
So Joshy, when you are feeling as if you have no future here in a diminished America, download some photos from Ellis Island on your Ipad. Or maybe your ancestors came here on the Mayflower. Or maybe they smuggled themselves in from Bosnia or Mexico. Wherever they came from, you can probably be assured that it was not a comfortable trip.
Peter, I doubt that Todd’s daughter just jumped on a bus and took a cushy ride to Cambridge, be it in Massachusetts or England. It was the journey of years of hard work that took her there. And I would wager that her father didn’t get where he is today through some legacy or limousine ride that took him to the White House and beyond.

It's amazing this Todd Buchholz character has a job himself. It would be nice to see other economists speak out against him and defend their field of practice (economics, by the way, does NOT require any kind of permit to practice...infer from that fact what you will and then take Mr. Buchholz's snake oil with a grain of salt). He displays an extreme lack of understanding of complex systems - dynamic systems in which change is a permanent feature. If Mr. Buchholz and people who harbor similar world views are scared, then they should be. They and their fellow emporors have no clothes and they are about to have no court or palace either. As a youngish 30 something with siblings and friends on both sides of the very clear divide that has emerged in American due to the failed policies of George Bush and his predecessors, I agree with others here who object to the younger generations being picked on. It is not youth but the adults who have changed the world for the worse and brought this current environment into being. The youth did not make the policies which have divided wealth (and jobs). The youth did not proclaim rationality, selfishness, and equilibrium as the holy trinity of economic thought. But it is the youth who understand that cooperation, compassion, and dynamic non-equilibrium are the realities of our world. And it is the youth who will fix our system...if only Mr. Buchholz and other misguided "adults" like him would let them. Mr. Buchholz should consider providing a few more carrots and a few less sticks and maybe he can avoid losing his job and having to crash on his parent's couch in the very near future.

While I agree that codling does create a less independent adult, I don't see how removing licensing for jobs will help. On one hand he's saying that kids need to make more of an effort, and then throws in an idea that getting a job should require less effort. I'm all for safety and quality standards, and they shouldn't be thrown out to make it easier for lazy bums to get off of the couch.

Thank you NPR for letting Buchholtz express his opinion so that he can see how far off his views are from mainstream America. I share the same sentiment that many others have voiced here - well said Fudoki and JRM.

Instead of discussing the real problems in this country and economy Buchholtz finds it convenient to parcel out blame to young Americans - as if this segment of America is solely to blame.

I gather that what Buchholtz and many on the right really want to say, or blame young Americans for, is contributing to having Obama elected. It is as if they are so upset and angry about it that they now harbour this deep content for all of those "lazy, spoiled, unmotivated, etc..." kids who voted for Obama.

There has been no love for young Americans from the right the last few years, and especialy so when the Occupy Wall Street movement started. As young Americans continue to struggle with many issues they are continually tuanted by the right by slogans and questions similar to Buchholtz's comment here that perhaps it is a "lingering cloud of hopelessness despite the "hope and change" bumper stickers."

I'm a 20something who moved back in with my parents after college because I had no job prospects, and I looked hard.

My resume includes:
-BS in engineering from Colorado School of Mines
-MS in engineering from Boise State University
-Internships in Idaho Falls, ID and Silver City, NM

I am absolutely not averse to moving to multiple places. I moved back home due to the debt I accrued getting the education I needed to get the job I wanted. Those jobs did not materialize by the time I was finished with school, and the jobs I found labeled as "Entry Level" required 5 years of experience. I'm pretty sure that it was not that I was afraid of risk, but rather that the job market didn't give me an opportunity to take a risk.

Perhaps Mr. Buchholz would be better off focusing on the broken economics of the Baby Boomers, instead of projecting those problems on a younger generation.

This has got to be one of the worst things ever to come out of 'Marketplace'. I think the economy is sapping them, not the other way around. I hope you DO have some training and a license to become a manicurist. But what college-educated young person wants to move to Alabama to become one any way? And just because the unemployment rate is low in North Dakota doesn't mean there are plenty of jobs there. It just means there aren't many more PEOPLE than there are jobs there.

Agreed! If only all it took was common sense and basic math to get legit news outlets to stop paying for opinion pieces from clueless, smarmy hucksters like Buchholz...

I'm tired of these articles that are nothing more than self-soothing rants poking at “kids these days”. I also like that the first sentence of the article is aimed at people 25 and older, most of whom would be considered generation X, not generation Y.

I have already had things to say about another article by the same author entitled the "Go Nowhere Generation". I thought I could let my beef with Todd Bucholz rest until I was stuck in traffic listening to Marketplace. As far as the content of the article and what I heard on the radio, I have several issues with it. First and foremost, Americans being compelled to move is just as much a contributor of our post-millennium ruin as it was a source of our manifest destiny expansionist glory long ago. Our migratory patterns are all part and parcel of what killed American industry and fueled the rise and collapse of the housing bubble.

What happened to the adage "Bloom Where You are Planted"? I would like to think my generation is more in line with the ideals of leaders like John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock PA, than we are with some yuppie ideal of chasing after every opportunity to make more and spend more, trashing the economy and the environment as they climb, climb, climb and move, move, move.

I will also add that I don't live at home. Nobody I know lives at home. Most of the people I grew up with have been working since before we were out of high school and never stopped. Many of us are home owners. I have always found it frustrating that these pop-sociological analyses always focuses on the "Leave It To Beaver" upper middle class population and neglect the successes of blue collar youth from working class families that are going to save this country. I would like to believe that we are staying where we are to maintain, rebuild, and revive the communities and states where we grew up out of love, pride, and foresight rather than take our tax dollars elsewhere and let our neighborhoods crumble.

As far as statistics are concerned, I'm glad fewer teens are driving. I doubt it has much to do with kids not desiring to work or get out of the house, but more to do with the fact that mom and dad are broke and can't help them buy a car or get insurance. This was the rite of passage observed by middle class Americans for decades. Wasps may not have a quince años or a bar mitzvah, but there is the fine tradition of the gift car. Plenty of kids who got a car for their 16th birthday. Okay, so that was usually the rich jock, but even working class families made plans to help pay half or gave the hand-me-down Volvo so mom had an excuse to finally get a new one. Now many families can't afford another car and all that comes with it, so where is the incentive to get a license? You know what keeps teens out of work? Perhaps it’s the fact that places like Starbucks and McDonalds are now staffed by women in their 50’s who can’t afford to retire.

I would love to see a time when journalists choose discuss our generation reasonably and skip the dodgy misuse of statistics. Perhaps if author Bucholz did a better job as former presidential economic adviser we wouldn't be having a conversation about joblessness to begin with. I find the comments he makes implying that even idiot manicurists have to have 700+ hours of training insulting to the working class. Perhaps someday Bucholz will have half a toe snipped off and a debilitating fungus and he will see the value of someone well trained in hygiene and aesthetics. In the mean time our generation will keep working and he can continue shoveling manure for a living.

Fudoki...Your comment is the smartest, most comprehensive opinion I've heard about this topic. Thank you for your input!

Many, many decades ago, when 30% or more of the population was involved with food production (farming and ranching) responsibility and hard work of families sharing homes and places of work, got us through the Great Depression and WWII. Lets see if this generation learns, earns, and raises the country up on its shoulders yet again.


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