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The Boomerang Generation: Hard Times Forcing Twentysomethings in the Americas to Live in the Parental Home for Longer

A combination of high levels of student debt, high housing costs and limited employment opportunities have lead a growing number of young adults in the Americas to either remain in the parental home for longer or to return to it once they have completed their higher education.

Background

While 20- and 30-something children living with their parents in the family home has long been an established social trend in Southern European countries like Italy, Greece and Spain (where it has been cited as a factor in the mass demonstrations that erupted in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and elsewhere during May 2011), it is also becoming increasingly important in the Americas, both North (where they have been dubbed the “boomerang generation”) and South.

Take the case of 23-year-old Michael Doughty, from Shreveport in Mississippi: When he graduated from college in 2009, he envisioned a well-paying job, a nice apartment and perhaps a new car. Two years later, he works occasionally as a substitute teacher and is living at home with his parents: “I went to school for four-and-a-half years to learn a trade and to better myself so I could have a better employment opportunity. I’ve been hitting the pavement, but I just can’t really get anything rolling.”

Soaring student debt, lack of job opportunities and growth of internships all factors

Young Americans are often saddled with a mountain of debt: According to data from the U.S. Education Department, federal student-loan disbursements jumped by a quarter, to US$75.1 billion, during the 2008-2009 academic year, as economic conditions deteriorated markedly. According to Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, “Loans have gone from being the exception to being the norm for most students.”

They are also facing a dire job market: In July 2010, the youth unemployment rate in the USA rose to 19%, a record high in seasonally adjusted terms. Moreover, what work is available sometimes takes the form of unpaid internships that are increasingly an unofficial requisite for entry into a number of careers, such as journalism. According to a 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 49 million Americans now live in family households with at least two adult generations.

Incomes of twentysomethings struggle to recover from recession

Facing such a hostile economic and financial environment, can it really be much of a surprise that they are returning to the parental home in droves? It could be argued that a significant decline in the cost of housing over recent years has actually made independence more affordable, but this is only relevant for those who are working and for whom debt repayments are not a significant issue.

According to Helen Wise, associate professor of sociology at Louisiana State University of Shreveport: “When you look at the cost of housing in the USA and what your wages will actually buy, most entry level positions don’t provide sufficient levels of compensation to cover the cost of housing.” According to Euromonitor International data, average gross income for those aged 15-29 fell between 2008 and 2010 in both the USA and Canada.

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Outlook

The boomerang trend is closely correlated to wider economic trends, particularly in the labour market: The longer the youth unemployment rate remains elevated, the more persistent this trend will be. However, young adults, particularly in North America, tend to be quite geographically mobile, so it is reasonable to expect that they will swiftly leave the comforts of home once their job prospects improve.

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