Today The New York Times posted a piece “The Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave.” Apparently one in five people in their 20s and early 30s lives at home today. And 60 percent of young adults receive financial support from their parents. Despite the challenges I’ve faced in my career, I know I’m extremely fortunate to have been able to… boomer… without the rang.
Nearly 45 percent of 25-year-olds, for instance, have outstanding loans, with an average debt above $20,000. Student loan debt is frightening. I’m a privileged spoiled brat. My parents paid for all of my overpriced, mid-tier private school BFA and a ridiculous amount of expensive art supplies along with the typical library of never-look-at-again textbooks. While I picked up a very part-time job in college at my school (because I didn’t like feeling that spoiled) the reality was the little money I made barely covered, well, not much at all.
I even graduated with a small savings of $15,000 from a lawsuit and its interest when I broke my arm as a child, and used $8000 of that to buy my first car outright – a used Toyota Camry which was a great first car. I managed, with the little bit of savings and no student debt, to survive my bipolar rollercoaster of graduating college with severe depression, getting laid off from numerous jobs, and somehow through my own grit and refusal to fail (i.e. move back home) I just survived. I don’t know if I ever really thrived, but I just zigged at the right times and zagged at others.
But, at the same time, I didn’t move to San Francisco and blow all of my savings on an apartment or going out with friends. Maybe I would have been happier if I did that at the time, but knowing the only enemy was being forced to return home to live with my parents, I lived in a tiny closet-sized room in the burbs with roommates who I could not stand for a few months. I contemplated suicide numerous times. I stopped eating. I lost 30lbs and for the first time in my life since I was a kid clocked in at under 120lbs. My life was a giant trainwreck and it only began to stabilize when I met my long-time boyfriend and he started to teach me how to actually love myself. The job piece never really smoothed out. My career just took on a life of its own. I let it. I applied for hundreds if not thousands of jobs. Few people would give me the time of day. When offers came, I jumped on them. There was no choice. It was – this is the opportunity you have right now and you’re going to take it.
Maybe if I grew up in a happy, loving household I would have been more tempted to return home. I guess I’m fortunate not only that I had savings to speak of when I graduated college but also that my home life was so fucked up that returning home was a fate worse than death. Had I moved back home, I could see myself being like those quoted in the Times article who fear years later that living at home has become a crutch.
Economically it’s fascinating to watch the world spin around me with such instability I wonder if years from now the world will look back and see us as a generation living through a great recession of the early century – back when people still had to use their hands to type and feet to drive. The Times article notes “since 1980, the U.S. economy has been destabilized by a series of systemic changes — the growth of foreign trade, rapid advances in technology, changes to the tax code, among others — that have affected all workers but particularly those just embarking on their careers.”
Here’s a poignant question from the article: Is living with your parents a sign, as it once was, of failure?
No. It’s not. It is actually smart fiscally speaking. When I have children (if I have children) would I be ok with them moving back home after graduating college?
My parents wouldn’t understand this. While both grew up in lower income families (somewhere between poverty and middle class… back when the real middle class existed) they both moved into the upper middle class in the years when upward mobility was possible. Both born from Jewish first-generation or second-generation immigrant families, working up in the world was necessary. My father’s mother gave birth to six children, five of which are doing quite well for themselves. My mother’s mother gave birth to three daughters and each moved into the upper middle class. But upward mobility is no longer really possible. Not unless you “happen to” marry into wealth, or you go to Stanford, study engineering and make friends with CEOs and venture capitalists. If this is my mindset as someone from the upper middle class, I can only imagine how hard it is for anyone who grew up in lower economic households.
“This uncomfortable fact, which many economists have recently accepted, suggests that we are living not simply in an unequal society but rather in two separate, side-by-side economies. For those who can crack the top 20 percent, there is great promise. Most people in that elite group, Rank told me, will spend at least part of their careers among the truly affluent, earning more than $250,000 a year. For those at work in the much larger pool, there will be falling or stagnant wages and far greater uncertainty. A college degree is an advantage, but it no longer offers any guarantee, especially for those who graduate from lower-ranked for-profit schools.”
I’m in a curious place right now in my career. If I actually was the person who “I play on tv” I could make it to $250,000 a year. I could crack that 20 percent. But that’s all fake me. That’s all going to crack sooner or later. I don’t think I’ll return home but I certainly don’t see myself maintaining the economic status of my parents. While it’s certainly challenging to live in poverty or the lower middle class in some ways it’s harder to grow up in a higher class and move into a lower class. If you are used to one way of living it’s harder to give this up.
Yet with the advent of all of this fancy smanshy technology (the world I live breathe and work in every day) we no longer have a work life and a personal life, we no longer can work to live. We are pushed harder to deliver more in the same number of hours and if we cannot achieve these efficiencies then the business will find someone else who will. The only way to win is either to live as low cost as possible (return home, free/low rent) or to play the capitalist game for as long as you can hold your breathe and hope you don’t get found out if you happen not to fit the suit of the pawn.