TAMPA — After graduating from the University of Florida in 2015, Gabrielle Piloto jumped on the highway and headed south to Tampa.
She had landed a marketing job at a law firm and envisioned renting an apartment downtown or in Seminole Heights. But the rents of $1,000 a month and up were out of her reach. She toyed with the idea of buying a house, thinking the mortgage payments might be more affordable.
In the end, she moved back in with her grandparents in West Tampa.
Piloto unloaded her boxes into the same room she slept in during high school. She thought of it as temporary. The next year she'd save money. She'd move out. She was excited to start her life.
"I was initially thinking maybe I'd be here for a year," she said, now 22.
You may already know that millennials — the massive generation born between 1982 and 2004 — are more likely to live with their parents or grandparents than young adults have been in decades. But did you know Florida is leading the trend?
A new report shows that Miami has a larger share of millennials living at home than any other metropolitan region in the country — nearly 45 percent. The Tampa Bay area, where more than 1 in 3 millennials live at home, ranked 15th, beating out places like Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Dallas.
Why is the trend so pronounced in Florida? Part of it is cultural. Living with one's parents is the norm for some recent arrivals from Latin America and Asia.
But most experts say it largely comes down to money. Millennials across the state lack the earning power their parents had at that age, said Sam Radbil of the apartment-hunting site ABODO, which compiled the data for the report. "And rent is leaps and bounds more expensive."
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In metropolitan areas like Miami and Tampa, millennials are facing a perfect storm of economic factors.
The median monthly income for a person between 18 and 34 living with his or her parents in the Tampa Bay region is $1,295, ABODO found. The median monthly rent, meanwhile, is $976.
In Miami, where rents average $1,208, the disparity is even more jarring. The real estate site Trulia recently reported the average young adult can afford less than 3 percent of apartments.
It's not just that rents are expensive and growing, Radbil said. Both regions meet the high, but average, rate of unemployment for young adults across the country: about 10 percent, Radbil said.
Florida's overall unemployment rate in May was 4.3 percent.
That both regions are home to major universities may also be a factor, Radbil added. "It kind of makes sense just to move home if you're going to stay in the same city you went to college in," he said.
Joy Ortiz, a Florida native, already had her own place in Georgia. But after her husband was injured in the military, the immediate loss of income left them unable to support their 2-month-old son and pay rent. So she headed back home to Jacksonville.
"My mom was gracious enough to say, 'You need a place to stay, stay as long as you want,' " recalled Ortiz, 31.
By the time her husband's disability kicked in seven months later, they had saved enough to live on their own again. But Ortiz knows her mom would welcome them — and their two dogs — back again if they needed somewhere to live.
Sarai Cruz wasn't planning to live with her parents in Miami after graduating from the University of Florida. But the money she made during a one-year marketing fellowship wasn't enough to pay for an apartment.
Cruz eventually landed a full-time gig with Carnival Cruise Line — a position that came with better pay and health insurance benefits. Even then, she wasn't making enough to live alone, she said.
She decided to stay put with her parents.
Cruz said she has no real choice; her financial situation dictates where she lives.
She loves her parents, but longs for independence.
"To me," she said, "this isn't normal."
Her plan: save enough money over the next two years to move into an apartment just outside of Miami. She will likely need to find roommates, she said.
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Hal Runkel, a Georgia-based parenting counselor and author, isn't convinced the economic argument is the main reason so many millennials are staying with mom and dad. He blames a "launching crisis" fueled by changes in the way parents raise their kids.
"We have put so much emphasis on getting the right academics, getting into the right college, we're forgetting to prepare them for life on their own," he said.
Parental anxiety is high, he said, so some moms and dads do everything they can to protect their children and keep them innocent and safe for as long as possible.
Runkel, a father of two, urges millennials living at home to ask themselves a question: "Are you a drain, or a fountain?"
"Living with your parents is one thing," he said. "Living off your parents is another."
But Florida State University sociology professor Elwood Carlson says history tells a different story.
Carlson has a chart showing the number of people in their 20s living on their own from 1900 through the present day, based on ensus data. The key takeaway, he said: Between 1900 and 1940, the share of young adults living on their own is about what it is now.
"Even though they were finishing school and starting out on 'adult' life a lot earlier back then, they were not any more likely to be independent householders than millennials are today," he said.
If anything, he says, millennials have returned to what was normal in the early 20th century.
"So there is no reason to go looking for strange new pathological explanations for why young people 'can't grow up' in the millennial generation," Carlson said.
The data, he added, shows millennials are just as "grown up" as their great-grandfathers and grandmothers. As for the generation who left the nest early, most of whom were baby boomers? He calls them "the lucky few."
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Piloto did not expect to live with her grandparents long- term.
Before the move, she assumed she would be eager to find her own apartment once she saved enough money. She could afford something now, and she's paid off her student loans.
But she enjoys spending time with her grandparents. And they are happy to have her help. Both have ongoing health problems and recent hospital stays.
Plus, Piloto's grandmother sometimes makes her dinner or does her laundry.
"It's an obvious perk," she said.
Since moving in, Piloto has painted the yellow walls of her bedroom a neutral gray. She's added grown-up touches to the decor, too, like an old illustration of the solar system, books and a small globe.
Piloto doesn't plan to live with her grandparents forever, she said. She will likely forgo an apartment and buy a home. But for now, she said, her grandparents' house is where she wants to be.
Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] or (727) 893-8862. Follow @sara_dinatale.