The Wall Street Journal and GoliathJobs, The "Generation Jobless" Series
The Toll on Parents When Kids Return Home
Faith Jacobson, center, with her mother, Debra, and father, Jerry, at her dad's home. She splits her time between her parents' residences.
Many young adults find themselves still tethered to the Bank of Mom and Dad, and that dependence is taking a toll.
Kevin Davis moved back home last December after receiving a business finance degree from the University of North Carolina. He has yet to land a full-time job.
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The 25-year-old often commiserates with his father, John, an information-technology professional who was laid off as a project manager in October 2010 for the second time since 2007. "At times, it's hard for me to keep up my own spirits as well as Kevin's," admits John Davis, a resident of Winston-Salem, N.C., who currently receives unemployment insurance.
As recent college graduates scramble to find full-time jobs, numerous parents are helping their children pay bills or letting them live at home again. About 59% of parents provide or recently provided financial assistance to children aged 18 to 39 who weren't students, concluded a May survey of nearly 1,100 people by the National Endowment for Financial Education.
According to Census data, 5.9 million Americans between 25 and 34 years of age—nearly a quarter of whom have bachelor's degrees—live with their parents, a significant increase from 4.7 million before the recession.
But many parents can't afford the extra expense. A full 26% of those polled by the nonprofit group took on more debt to help their offspring, 13% delayed a planned life event such as a home purchase, and 7% postponed retirement.
Young Men Feel Job-Market Pain
Leah Nash for The Wall Street Journal
Compounding the problem is the fact that certain parents are crowding the younger generation out of the job market because their support of their grown kids means they can't afford to retire.
Kevin, a licensed pilot with aspirations to run an airport, says he knows someone more than twice his age who beat him for an airport managerial post this summer because the older man had more experience.
The strain of joblessness and continued financial support for Kevin—which his father estimates costs $300 a month, or 18% of the family's living expenses—have exhausted his parents' savings and forced the 61-year-old Mr. Davis and his wife, Donna, a 54-year-old teacher's assistant, to start spending money from their retirement accounts.
"Short of winning the lottery, I don't know when I will be able to retire," says Mr. Davis. And he says his wife "probably will never retire."
"If the economy remains weak, you may see more parents sacrificing their financial health for their struggling adult offspring," warns NEFE President Ted Beck.
Personal trainer Debra Jacobson shares her Jupiter, Fla., home with two adult daughters and a teenaged one.
From College Major to Career
The 60-year-old divorced mother says she can't afford home insurance or health coverage "because I am supporting these three daughters with food and a roof over their heads." She figures that costs around $600 a month.
Faith, 23, has split her time between her mom's and dad's residences since she graduated in August 2010 with a communications degree from the University of South Florida. She is trying to repay about $23,000 in college debt with the money she earns as a part-time bartender. She yearns to be a TV journalist or professional singer, but "there aren't many opportunities here," she says.
Her older sister, Jackie, who is 26 and teaches part-time, owes about $60,000 on the loans she took out to get her mechanical-engineering and math degrees. "I feel like a burden" she says of living with her mother. "What is there to be proud of?"
Bank of Mom and Dad?
Experts' tips for parents helping to support their grown children post-college:
- Suggest they take a low-status job outside their chosen profession or unpaid internship in their field.
- Set an expiration date for your extensive financial aid.
- Teach them savvy networking tactics.
- Reach out to your circle of contacts for job leads.
- Practice tough love for offspring living with you again, spelling out jobhunting goals, household chores and limits on recreational use of your car.
Ms. Jacobson, meanwhile, says she regrets that Faith and Jackie had to borrow so heavily for college. As parents, she says, "our job was to pay for their education. They should not have debts they can't pay."
Young graduates' protracted dependency can be emotionally draining, too. "Parents feel upset when their adult child can't get the kind of job that he or she wanted because they raised them to believe 'you can do anything you want,'" says Cliff Zukin, a Rutgers University professor of public policy and political science.
Some worried mothers and fathers have become closely involved in the employment searches of their adult offspring.
"Parents want to get on with their own lives" and regain the privacy they have lost from sharing their empty nest with grown offspring, says Damian Birkel, founder of Professionals in Transition, a support group in Winston-Salem.
So far this year, staffers at GoliathJobs.com, which operates free websites for college students and boomers, have counseled more than 2,500 parents seeking job-hunting help for their kids right before or after their children graduated, reports founder David Mezzapelle. That's up from 150 calls in 2007.
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