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Recession produces bumper crop of boomerang kids

CHICAGO

Natasha Giraldo shoved her possessions into half of her mother's garage in June.

She quit her full-time teaching gig in Florida and moved back to Roselle, Ill., to be closer to her nieces, or so she told her mother at the time. When September rolled around and she still hadn't found a new job, Giraldo confessed she had racked up $48,000 in credit card debt, largely in the six years she lived in Florida. And she had to acknowledge she couldn't make it on her own.

What was supposed to be a temporary stay looks like it may be extended to next fall.

Giraldo, 33, is part of a bumper crop of young adults who have sought their old bedrooms as a recession-era refuge, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. While the increase in so-called boomerang kids seems a rational response to the financial slump, the study found young adults also are putting their lives on hold during this downturn.

One in 10 adults ages 18 to 34 said the poor economy has forced them to move back in with Mom and Dad, according to Pew. In addition to those who have moved home, 12 percent scurried to find a roommate to scale down living expenses.

Young adults are altering their behavior in other ways, too. About 15 percent of adults younger than 35 say they have postponed getting married because of the recession, according to Pew. Not only can they not afford a big wedding, but they don't have the money to buy a house or take care of a child. Fourteen percent of young adults say they have put off having a baby.

"They are delaying important decisions, perhaps indefinitely. We hope it's temporarily, but that's contingent upon the economy improving," said Richard Morin, a senior editor at Pew and the study's author. "These aren't slackers. These are people who are in transition, and their lives are on hold."

Few jobs available, and the pay stinks

The survey of more than 1,000 adults was taken nationwide in October. It was combined with Census Bureau data to show that while the recession has touched Americans of all ages, it was been especially hard on young adults. Similar proportional drops in young adults living alone happened during or immediately after the recessions of 2001 and 1982, the researchers found.

Parents who have adult children under their roofs shouldn't expect them to leave soon, said Morin, who expects the return to multigenerational households will last at least another year.

Young adults are struggling to find work in a job market of diminished pay and opportunities. When they find work, they often aren't earning enough to live independently. Only 46.1 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds are employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the smallest share recorded since the government began collecting such data in 1948.

"Young adults are the first to feel the pain of a bad economy and the last to feel the benefits of a recovery," said David Morrison, president of twentysomething.inc, a young adult consulting firm. "They are at the age that has the least job security. They are the most vulnerable in this market."

Giraldo said her mother, Kathleen Ustick, "knew what my intentions were" before she came home for an open-ended stay.

"And she knew what my expectations were," said Ustick, 63.

That doesn't mean the transition has been easy.

After years of sleeping in her queen bed, Giraldo has been relegated to a full-sized mattress on the bottom bunk. She has splinters and knuckle scrapes to show for her new living arrangement.

"I created that room thinking, 'This is for my grandchildren,' " Ustick said of the space Giraldo shares with a crib, two dog crates and three kitty litter boxes.

An old arrangement with a fresh outlook

For many adult children, moving home is a tough call. As much as they love Mom or Dad's cooking, this is the age when they want to establish independent lives. Parents and children have to manage expectations, experts say, and guard against reverting back to familiar roles and patterns.

At 33, Giraldo doesn't have to ask her mother's permission to stay out late, but she checks in as a courtesy.

"She's already raised me. She doesn't have to do it again," Giraldo said. "I moved back in as a necessity based on the choices I made."

It's hard for children to avoid viewing it as a step back in time, and experts say feelings of failure, depression and anxiety are common in such situations. Giraldo has experienced them all. The scariest part was having an honest conversation with her mother about her finances, said Giraldo, who feared her mother would lose respect for her.

"It's admitting that you screwed up," Giraldo said. "But in these economic times, there's no room for embarrassment."

It's been an emotional and financial adjustment for her mother as well, Ustick said.

"It's a whole change in lifestyle. If I'm perfectly honest, I would love to go back to having my house to myself," she said. "But you incorporate (your adult children) into your life rather than stop living."

All of Giraldo's plans are stalled until her career gets back on track. She has cut up all of her credit cards to remind herself of what it's like at the bottom of that financial hole. She continues to find substitute teaching jobs, hoping to build relationships with the administrators who will be hiring next school year. Mostly, she's ready for the day when she can turn her mother's garage back into a place to store her car.

"As much as I love my mom," Giraldo said, "when I'm able, I will be out of here."

Recession produces bumper crop of boomerang kids 01/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 5:14pm]

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