More young adults than ever are moving back in with their parents. They're not the ones we should be worrying about.
A couple of weeks ago, the Karl Rove-affiliated PAC American Crossroads released an ad assailing Obama for being "cool." Flashes of Obama's most endearing, charismatic moments are intercut with sobering statistics, including this one: 85 percent of recent college graduates move back in with their parents.
This statistic is a gross exaggeration—a Pew Research Center study in March found that only 39 percent of adults 18 to 34 said they lived with their parents recently, and after age 30, college-educated kids were less likely to live at home than their uneducated counterparts. Still, the American Crossroads statistic was clearly meant to instill rage about the faltering economy, aimed squarely at Baby Boomer parents who have raised Boomerang kids. The video adds to the bipartisan fretting about young adults who live with their parents—they're spoiled, they're hurting the consumer economy and the housing market, they're traitors to the adventurous, independent American spirit. But a slew of recent research suggests that while Millennials are indeed bearing the brunt of a dismal economy, the Boomerang kids are the lucky ones. And so are their parents.
A new report from the Melbourne Institute found that wealthy young adults are more likely to live with their parents than their less privileged peers, because their families are the ones who can afford to take them in [PDF]. Perhaps this is why Pew found that more than three-quarters of young adults ages 25 to 34 who have moved back home say they're satisfied with their living arrangements and upbeat about their future finances. They're the ones who will ultimately land on their feet by using their families' networks and resources—yet another recent survey of recent graduates found that one in 10 are digging into their parents' professional contacts to get jobs. These numbers may be rising because of the recession, but these are safety nets the middle and upper classes have always had. It's also a move non-Americans have been making for years, even in sunnier economic times.
Middle- and upper-class Boomer parents aren't usually suffering as a result of this phenomenon, either. Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, Pew found that almost half of Boomerang children say they have paid rent and almost 90 percent have helped with household expenses. At this point, the caricature of the Millennial moocher belies the much more nuanced, pragmatic reality. Pooling resources and accepting help isn't necessarily a sign of extended childhood so much as a smart recession-era move. Privileged kids are doing what they have to do to survive, and research shows they're not planning on staying home forever, either.
All of that is why our culture should spend less time worrying about the "spoiled" Boomerang kids, and more time helping the ones who don't have that option. Their parents are suffering the consequences of the economy, too, and can't afford to welcome them back. These are the young adults who need to leave their houses and work by necessity, who can't afford college, who are being left high and dry, who will ultimately suffer most from the recession. They're the ones who could benefit from an increase in the minimum wage, or grants for college, or housing subsidies. The kids at home are all right—maybe not now, but they probably will be. The kids on their own? They could use the concerned energy going into all the hand-wringing over Boomerang kids.
Illustration by Andres Guzman.