Economy leads kids back home

Marketplace Staff Dec 18, 2009

Economy leads kids back home

Marketplace Staff Dec 18, 2009


TESS VIGELAND: There is no place like home, especially at the holidays. And for many young adults there’s no place like home for days and months before and after the holidays. Welcome to the Great Recession. Where a new study from the Pew Research Center says nearly one in seven parents with grown children had a “boomerang” kid move back home this past year.

Apryl Lundsten reports on what it’s like for young adults to return to the nest.

Apryl Lundsten: Victoria Kraus never thought at 26 she’d be living with her mom.

Victoria Kraus: When I was in high school, I thought by the time I’m 25 I’ll probably have an apartment of my own, possibly a mortgage.

She also thought she’d have a good, stable job. One with benefits. Instead, she works three part-time jobs at restaurants and a printing company, trying to pay off student loans, a car payment and credit card debt. Expenses that total nearly $700 a month. Add rent, food and gas and Kraus can barely make ends meet. When one of her three jobs disappeared last month, she asked her mom if she could move home.

Kraus: If I can avoid rent, then I might as well, and if it’s going to be uncomfortable, I’ll just bite my tongue.

This is the second time in the last couple years Kraus has had to move home. Kraus did everything right — she went to college, got a great job at a Los Angeles museum and had her own place. But when the economy tanked, so did Kraus’ great job. She says it’s been impossible to find a steady position ever since.

Kraus: That was when I started really thinking, you know, “What was college for? What investment did I make?”

Richard Morin is senior editor at the Pew Research Center, who conducted the recent study. He says Kraus is joining lots of other young people moving home.

Richard Morin: We saw that the percentage of young people who lived alone had actually declined between 2007, just before the recession really kicked in, and 2009.

Morin calls it “lives interrupted.”

Morin: What we meant by that is that people are basically putting fundamental personal decisions — whether or not to live independently — putting them on hold.

He says they’ve seen numbers like this before, in 1982 and 1992, also recession times. But Morin says one thing the study found shocked him.

Morin: What we saw when we looked at the patterns by gender was the percentage of women who lived by themselves had declined by a full percentage point. In demographic terms, that’s a huge decline in a relatively short period of time.

Morin thinks perhaps younger women tend to end up in lower paid jobs than younger men do.

Twenty-eight year old Erica Camacho says she never earned enough from her retail jobs back in Arizona to set anything aside. She lived there for nine years and moved back to Los Angeles a year ago. She said she just couldn’t ask her parents for any more financial help, something they’d been giving all along. Now she’s paying down $8,000 in credit card debt and medical and utility bills. Coming back to her childhood home was a humbling experience.

Erica Camacho: I felt kind of defeated, kind of like a failure, ’cause I wasn’t able to make it on my own.

Hearing this from his daughter makes Camacho’s dad, Umberto, choke up.

Umberto Camacho: I think that it’s very, very emotional, in terms that she couldn’t make it. But we had to be there for her and yeah, you know, there’s the pros and cons and there’s a change, but we’re still… She’s still our daughter.

At this point, Camacho, who’s a clerk at Sears, and Kraus both live for free. Their parents don’t ask them to contribute financially. They’d like to, they just can’t afford it.

Financial psychologist Brad Klontz, co-author of “Mind Over Money,” says not contributing can be a problem.

Brad Klontz: The thing that we want to avoid is financial enabling, which is basically financial help that hurts, which can make launching into adulthood a more difficult process.

He says even if kids don’t pay, they should earn their keep by helping around the house. Both Camacho and Kraus cook and clean and are happy to pitch in whenever they can.

Klontz says it’s important to set boundaries and be clear about expectations before moving home, because it’s easy for both parents and children to fall into old roles. Camacho agrees.

Erica: I think they may still see me as the kid who left in high school. You get stuck in that old dynamic of how you used to be.

Umberto: They’re coming to a place that’s a little bit changed, and it’s hard on everybody. It’s hard on us, and it’s hardest on them.

But there’s a bright side. One thing both families say is that they’re enjoying the time together. Camacho’s mom, Maria:

Maria Camacho: We’re getting to know each other on a different level, more a mature thing.

Richard Morin from Pew says once the economy rebounds, boomerang kids will likely go back to living independently. Kraus plans to move out in a couple months — she hopes by then she’ll have another job. Camacho is taking a longer view – she wants to pay off all her debt and go back to school. She’s hoping she can do that within five years.

In Los Angeles, this is Apryl Lundsten for Marketplace Money.

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