Boomerang kids: recession sends more young adults back home

Lack of jobs, the cost of housing, and school bills mean 'boomerang kids' can't afford to live on their own. And in years to come they'll be paying for the cost of borrowing to bail out the economy, too.

Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
An applicant holds a flyer advertising employment as she stands in line at a job fair at the Southeast LA-Crenshaw WorkSource Center in Los Angeles, Nov. 20.

If the recession is hitting young Americans hardest of all, the silver lining may be this: More of them don't have to travel very far to reconnect with their parents at holiday time. In fact, a new poll finds that, for a large number, the trip may not involve airports or bus terminals but just a walk downstairs.

Nearly 1 in 7 parents with grown children has had a child move back home with them during the past year, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday. The trend of young people becoming "boomerang kids," and returning to a not-so-empty nest, symbolizes something much broader: the way the recession is in many ways affecting young people more than other groups.

The social impacts of this recession span all ages, from retirees with smaller nest eggs to Michigan factory workers who are unlikely to build cars again. But the impact on 20-somethings is considerable:

• A smaller share of 16- to 24-year-olds are currently employed -- 46.1 percent -- than at any time since the government began collecting data in 1948, the Pew Research Center said in a report tied to its poll results.

• Some 1 in 3 young workers currently lives at home with his or her parents, according to a Labor Day report by the AFL-CIO federation of labor unions.

• Even as jobs grow scarce, education is getting more expensive. About 40 percent of young workers have delayed education or professional development due to financial worries, the AFL-CIO report found.

The economic impacts are obvious, but these trends also could have long-lasting social implications -- from anxiety at the ballot box to delays by young households in having children.

Economists say it can take years for young workers to make up for the loss in income that a deep recession represents.

"The scarring may be more permanent for those coming out of high school" into the labor force, than for those with college degrees, says Margaret Simms, an expert on social welfare policies at the Urban Institute in Washington. "There are ways in which college graduates can gain experience at reduced or no pay that often are not as easily available for people with only a high school education."

The best thing that could happen for young workers is a turn in the overall economy -- something that Washington policymakers are focused on. President Obama will hold a jobs forum next week to hear from business leaders.

But some analysts say the youngest generations are being hit twice by this recession: once up front with the tough labor market, and again later as they'll pick up a big share of the taxpayer costs of government programs to rescue the economy. This year's stimulus spending package and other strategies by presidents before Obama have involved buoying the economy with borrowed money.

Efforts to cure the housing-market woes also work in some ways against young people. The Treasury and Federal Reserve have been trying strategies designed to prop up home prices, to bolster the finances of banks and home-owning households.

The result: Housing costs are still out of reach for many Americans, including young ones who are moving back with their parents. The good news is just that they won't have to buy a plane ticket for Thanksgiving.


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