There’s nothing really original here except for the anecdotes. Perhaps that makes this post all the more damning.
I was speaking with a friend who lives in DuPage recently. He’s married. He and his wife both have four-year college degrees. They both work. She is doing paid post-graduate research work. He works in sales and is also going to graduate school to establish a new career. They are in their late twenties. They are considering moving from their rental apartment and are looking at their housing options. Those options in DuPage, for affordable housing, are not good.
My friend recently spoke to a friend of his from college, living in another state, who does some sort of computer technology consulting. The tech friend, a fellow college graduate with additional technical education he keeps increasing, lives at home because of a lack of stable income (he can be unemployed for months at a time). He is 31.
These two college alumni, both with bachelor degrees and additional education/certification, were talking about a dozen or so friends who were college graduate contemporaries from their school. They rattled off names and observed that only one of these people had a mortgage (i.e. “owned” their home). They observed that only a couple of them didn’t live with their parents.
My sense is that living with your parents as an adult in America, with some exceptions such as for culture and health, used to be an issue of economic class. I remember reading in college Mario Puzo’s novel “The Fortunate Pilgrim” where moving away from home was, in some sense, an evolution and realization of the “American Dream” for immigrants in all the grandeur and loss that severing such ties represents. My personal experience, moving home for a year with some of my siblings after graduating college in the early 1990s, was unexpected. A lot of American college graduates were moving home then because of the lack of decent paying jobs and the high cost of housing, but it was a new enough phenomena to merit news coverage and take quite a few parents by surprise. Growing up neither my parents nor I thought this would be the natural course of things. I’m sure it happened to a lot of people – but in my area it wasn’t a middle class expectation. It wasn’t “normal.”
Listening to my friend talk about how the vast majority of his college-educated circle of friends, most employed, were still living with their parents made me realize we had lost “normal” – and these young adults, people who we once and perhaps still view as the upcoming “middle class,” were losing out.
I don’t know how many of these young adults may have delayed marriage, or even serious relationships. I don’t know how many of these young adults have or will delay having children, if they have them at all. The statistics for the country suggest longer delays. The social effects, beyond increasing physical problems for older adults trying to bear children, are little publicized and perhaps not well studied. The statistics suggest that the problems of financial independence that have afflicted “lower-income” young adults so unjustly for so long have now become “middle class” problems too. The widespread support for increased minimum wage and living wage laws in the states this past election speak to this change of circumstance, and the concern.
When established economists and policymakers talk about our wonderful economy in the Bush era they likely go back at the end of the day to their own homes which, in some respects, seems rather unfortunate. I suspect if many of them went back to a home that their parents still lived in and owned they might have a different appreciation of the situation. They might, for instance, have to be back by a curfew that respects their parents’ bedtime. They might have to ask their parents if they can have a friend over. They might lack convenient space for, or access to, a computer. They might even be limited in the work they seek by household restrictions on parking – or by the limitations of area mass transit. Borrowing a phrase from economics, they might feel restrained in their ability to be a “self-maximizing agent.”
I remember what the normal expectations used to be for a decent economy. You don’t need to be an economist or a policymaker to know that it isn’t a good economy when so many are losing out.