The economy may be inching back from the worst downturn in decades, but 20-somethings still face a daunting road to employment and financial independence. They moved back home hoping to wait out the recession, until the job market turned around. But for many, what began as a temporary crash pad has become a permanent residence. Some 37 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds are unemployed or out of the workforce entirely, according to a February Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics figures; and the 19.6 percent unemployment rate for people 25 years old and younger in April was the highest since the Labor Department began recording the data in 1948.
But it’s not only the unemployed who are moving back home. A sizeable group of employed “millennials” (people born between 1980 and 2000), also are returning to the nest or accepting subsidies from their parents as a way to focus on developing careers, paying off student debt, and building savings. An AFL-CIO survey released last September found that a third of workers under age 34 live with their parents. A creditcards.com survey found that two in five parents are giving their adult children financial help.
The painful reality is that already modest entry-level salaries are falling. The average annual salary for 2010 college graduates is $47,673, 1.7 percent less than in 2009, when the economy was already in recession, according to National Association of Colleges and Employers data. It’s not that these young people aren’t making money at all, says Jane Adams, a social psychologist and parent-adult child relationship expert in Seatttle. “Just not enough to keep up with today’s housing costs, to save for graduate school or a future home, or to have the same standard of living that they have with their parents.”
In some cases, these return guests may be wearing out their welcome and growing lax about working hard, saving and moving out. A University of New Hampshire study released last March found millennials less hard-working and more money-hungry than baby boomers or the generation born between 1965 and 1980. The website Urban Dictionary recently introduced the term “Slackoisie” (pronounced slack-wah-zee), to refer to “narcissistic young professionals who often complain about work, are critical of long hours, and have an exaggerated sense of self-importance and entitlement.”
But for three very different employed young workers, living under their parents’ roof or accepting financial support motivated them to jumpstart careers, save, and seek autonomy as soon as financially feasible. Here are their stories:
One Tech’s Trek : Reid Fontaine, 27 years old, Glastonbury, Conn.
Reid Fontaine held a handful of media production and technical support jobs after his 2005 graduation from Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, N.H. After two unhappy stints as a local television news producer, including one layoff, Fontaine refocused his sights on information technology. When he was offered a six-month IT position at a Hartford, Conn., insurance company, he took his parents up on their offer to move back home in case the position didn’t pan out. By April 2009, the economy had plummeted, and when it came time for the company to review his contract, he was out of a job. He collected unemployment, worked odd jobs for a contractor friend , and job hunted. He landed his current position a full year later, managing computers and other IT equipment at a local elementary school. He worries it could be short-lived if the school board doesn’t allocate money for his position in its 2010-2011 budget.
“It’s been a bit of a crazy ride,” Fontaine says, but he is grateful for the time spent living at home. “It allowed me to bank a significant amount of money toward savings rather than dipping into it to pay bills. My parents knew that would ultimately help me later in life.”
He says his parents recognize that he’s not spending recklessly, and is steadying his career and building his finances enough to move out when it makes sense. “Sure, I’d rather be in an apartment in Boston making a large salary, but I also understand that I have changed career paths and it’s going to be more slow going,” he says.
His parents still don’t charge him rent, but he earns his keep as the family’s “technical guru,” helping his parents, siblings and grandparents fix their computer glitches and television sets. He also runs errands, does handywork around the house, and chauffeurs his mother when she needs a ride.
Though his relationship with his family is strong and he appreciates the roof over his head, “there are definitely some differing opinions on when the dishwasher should be emptied, what time I need to come home, and that kind of thing,” he says. “I love my family, but living here has definitely pushed me to seek work and stability, since it’s clear that I just need my own space,” he said.
The Political Apprentice: Ryan Carey, 22, Washington, D.C
By accepting an unpaid, full-time internship in the Washington office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Ryan Carey decided he’d be in a much better place professionally than if he had returned to his Syracuse, N.Y., home. “The job situation is even worse there than it is down here, so there would really be no career track to settle into,” he says.