by Vicki Larson
At the supermarket last week, I ran into the father of one of my 16-year-old’s friends. We chitchated about our jobs (like, did we still have them) and the crappy economy, but then, like most parents of high school sophomores, we got down to the real pressing issue: college.
“You’ll be an empty-nester. How do you feel about that?” I asked him.
“It will be strange. What about you?”
What about me, indeed.
As much as I expected I’d be an empty-nester in two years when my youngest graduates, now I’m not so sure. If his older brother’s an example, I wouldn’t bet on it.
After getting excited about culinary school, my older son changed his mind and decided to attend the local community college instead and then transfer to a four-year university. I was disappointed, and not just because I would jump at the chance to go to culinary school; honestly, what good is a BA nowadays? You spend tens of thousands of dollars to get it and, four or so years later end up asking people if they want whipped cream on their Frappuccino — if you’re even lucky enough to land a job as a barista, that is.
Although unemployment rates have been hovering about 10 percent, my son, who’ll be 20 this summer, is among the group — young adults, men, minorities — hardest hit by the current recession, with 27 percent unemployed.
He’s lucky, though, because he’s had a job for the past three years that pays him pretty decently and is teaching him skills that will translate to other professions. And he’s the only one between us who actually has a savings account. Still, there’s no way he can afford to live by himself, and thus my house could be a shoo-in for a “Failure to Launch” set.
But it’s not just my house. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, one in 10 Americans aged 18 to 34 has moved back home in the past year.
In Italy, more than 70 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds still live at home, causing the government to consider a law that would boot the “bamboccioni” (Italian for “big babies”) out by age 18.
In Sweden, 7 out of 10 of 20- to 25-year-olds are living at home, citing a chronic housing shortage and the poor economy. In the United Kingdom, 1 in 3 men aged between 20 and 40 still live with Mum and Da (although just 1 in 5 women of the same age do).
And it’s a similar story in Spain, Germany, France and Japan.
I’m all for tough love when it comes to things like addictions and juvenile delinquency, but I have a softer spot for situations beyond one’s control. The current economy is a disaster for young people, one that will likely have lifelong repercussions as far as earning potential and even mental health issues, or so experts say.
What loving parent wants to launch her child into that?
My kids are facing a radically different world than the one I faced at their age. College was easy to get into if you were a halfway decent student and jobs were plentiful. At 20, I was two years into my BA when I dropped out, moved to Colorado, got married and worked at about four jobs before finally supporting two adults, two dogs, a cat and a snake as the manager of a pizza and ice cream restaurant. When that marriage ended three years later, I became a boomerang kid, too, so I could finish my degree. I’m sure I would have made it OK by myself, but I am eternally grateful that my parents took me back in so I could get my life in order.
And it may be payback time; I’ve been considering moving my aging parents across the country and into the granny unit in my house so I can keep an eye on them.
Is it so bad to have a few generations under one roof?
There are several cultures, such as Hispanic and Asian, where that’s the norm; it wasn’t even that unusual in the States about 100 years ago or so. As a single mom, I enjoy having my boys around, especially now that they’ve matured and are willing to carry their share of the responsibilities — physical and financial — without too much nagging.
So, I’m happy to extend the welcome mat, and my boys know that. Of course, I plan to move out of the Bay Area in a few years, most likely back to Colorado, where it’s cheaper.
It’s also a heck of a lot colder, as they remind me with a frown.
Well, I told them I’d offer the welcome mat; I just didn’t promise them it would stay put.