As recent college graduates compete for work in a shrinking job market, many have retreated to the familiar and comfortable, back to where it all began before the endless job fairs, resume updates and mounting debts: back to Mom and Dad.
Such young adults, sometimes called boomerang children, now are tagged KIPPERS — Kids in Parents' Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings. According to sources such as the online Urban Dictionary, the acronym comes from Great Britain, traceable to a wildly popular sitcom, My Family, that featured a young man freely using the perks of his parents' home.
The number of KIPPERS appears to be on the rise.
A Pew Research Center study found that 13 percent of parents with adult children had one move back home with them last year. The Census reported that 9.9 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 were living with their parents in 2009, compared with 9.3 percent in 2007.
Of the 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed, 10 percent pointed squarely to the job market as the reason they live with their parents. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting only 48.9 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds working in July, an end to the trend doesn't seem to be in sight.
"I thought he would be out on his own within a year," Susan Urbanek of Pittsburgh said of her 24-year-old son's situation. "I kept encouraging him, saying, 'Michael, just give it six more months. In six more months, you'll have the job of your dreams.' It just never happened."
Facing each other as they sat on matching plush couches, Urbanek, 60, and her son pondered the circumstances that brought them to this point. Michael Urbanek graduated in December 2008 with a certificate in computer engineering and electronics technology from the ITT Technical Institute. But nearly two years after graduation, following 20 interviews and several unsatisfying offers, he remains at home, making money by doing occasional floor installations and home renovations.
"When I graduated, the housing market was in a slump and not a whole lot of people were hiring and the jobs that were out there seemed as if you couldn't advance in them," he said.
"I thought I would be at home for a little bit maybe, but not this long."
Despite his underemployment, Urbanek said he can be selective about jobs thanks to his parents' support. Susan Urbanek, who retired this year as a schoolteacher, and her husband, John Urbanek, a retired union plumber, have enough retirement income so that picking up the tab for their son's $100 monthly student loan payments and other expenses hasn't caused a financial toll on them. And with their son settled into the top floor of the family's six-bedroom home, they have more than enough space to live together — and to escape from each other when needed.
"We treat ourselves as adults cohabiting, and when (the children) all come for dinner, it's party time," Susan Urbanek said.
Though the Urbaneks are able to use their son's time in the household to forge tighter bonds, constricted space and limited finances are causing difficulties for some other families with KIPPERS.
A Pew Center social-trends report in March noted that 47 percent of families with multiple generations in one home include a grown child's children.
Belinda Aquino and her daughter, Brittany Aquino, 23, of Sharpsburg, Pa., near Pittsburgh, are one such family.
Brittany Aquino, a student at Sanford-Brown Institute, has been living in her mother's home with her two children for the past two years. After they moved into the two-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot space, her mother ended up renting a nearby storefront because her house no longer could hold both her family and her growing stuffed-animal business, Hotpack Huggies.
"Now I have the added expense of rental space and all of the bills here added on to everything else," said Belinda Aquino, 52, a single mother of four who described her income as "very low."
The bill for every utility has spiked since her daughter moved back home, she said, including an electric bill that jumped from about $97 per month to $300.
With her daughter in school and receiving about $400 in public assistance per month, she said she might start asking her daughter for a monthly contribution.
Beyond financial problems, mother and daughter said they most often clash because the living arrangement doesn't allow either woman the space to get past the parent-child dynamic.
"She doesn't treat me like an adult and I am an adult," Brittany Aquino said. "And because we are both stubborn, (neither) gives in during an argument."
Her mom's take on that touchy subject:
"She always wants to be treated like an adult, but she doesn't act like an adult. She's a great mother, takes great care of her kids and there is a lot of pressure, but I would like to think I relieve a lot of that pressure."
Moving in with one's parents is bound to introduce new pressures under most circumstances, but the move also can present an opportunity to strengthen relationships, said Todd Gallagher, 31, an author.
Gallagher temporarily moved back to his parents' Pittsburgh home last year so that he could work on a documentary project about going back to high school as an adult.
Still, conflicts that arose gave him a chance to show his parents the adult he had become.
"If you really try to be honest with yourself and your parents, it makes a world of difference," he said.
One thing that many KIPPERS and their families agree on is the importance of having an exit strategy.
Brittany Aquino had a setback due to a child's illness. Now, she estimates that about 10 months have been added to her original timetable for leaving her mother's home.
Michael Urbanek wants to find work within his field, but he won't accept any job just so that he can move.
"I would like to get into the technical field, but I'm not going to take a job where it's not going to go anywhere," he said. "I want something with some hope for advancement."
In the meantime, he continues doing construction and related work.
Meanwhile, parents await the day their children become independent — but with differing degrees of urgency.
Belinda Aquino worries that having her daughter live at home may hinder her daughter's ability to become responsible.
"I was on my own. I had to figure out how to do everything and that's what made me the person I am today. So I worry that her living with me and me making her life easier will have a detrimental effect because she didn't have to go out like I did and figure things out and face the hardships," she said.
Urbanek said of her son: "I know once he gets out on his own, he might not come around as much, so I guess I do want him to stay . . . but I also want him to get his life started. I want him to get on track."