Read MoreWhen adult children return to the nest
One in five people in their 20s and early 30s is currently living with his or her parents. And 60 percent of all young adults receive financial support from them. That's a significant increase from a generation ago, when only one in 10 young adults moved back home and few received financial support. The common explanation for the shift is that people born in the late 1980s and early 1990s came of age amid several unfortunate and overlapping economic trends. Those who graduated college as the housing market and financial system were imploding faced the highest debt burden of any graduating class in history. Nearly 45 percent of 25-year-olds, for instance, have outstanding loans, with an average debt above $20,000. (Kasinecz still has about $60,000 to go.) And more than half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, meaning they make substandard wages in jobs that don't require a college degree. According to Lisa B. Kahn, an economist at Yale University, the negative impact of graduating into a recession never fully disappears. Even 20 years later, the people who graduated into the recession of the early '80s were making substantially less money than people lucky enough to have graduated a few years afterward, when the economy was booming.
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Some may hope that the boomerang generation represents an unfortunate but temporary blip—that the class of 2015 will be able to land great jobs out of college, and that they'll reach financial independence soon after reaching the drinking age. But the latest recession was only part of the boomerang generation's problem. In reality, it simply amplified a trend that had been growing stealthily for more than 30 years. Since 1980, the U.S. economy has been destabilized by a series of systemic changes—the growth of foreign trade, rapid advances in technology, changes to the tax code, among others—that have affected all workers but particularly those just embarking on their careers. In 1968, for instance, a vast majority of 20-somethings were living independent lives; more than half were married. But over the past 30 years, the onset of sustainable economic independence has been steadily receding. By 2007, before the recession even began, fewer than one in four young adults were married, and 34 percent relied on their parents for rent.
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These boomerang kids are not a temporary phenomenon. They appear to be part of a new and permanent life stage. More than that, they represent a much larger anxiety-provoking but also potentially thrilling economic evolution that is affecting all of us. It's so new, in fact, that most boomerang kids and their parents are still struggling to make sense of it. Is living with your parents a sign, as it once was, of failure? Or is it a practical, long-term financial move? This was the question that the photographer Damon Casarez, who is 26, asked when he moved in with his parents after graduating from art school. So he started searching for other boomerang kids, using tools like Craigslist. The result is this photo essay. And the answer to whether boomeranging is a good or a bad thing depends, as Kasinecz noted, on how you look at it.
Childhood is a fairly recent economic innovation. For most of recorded history, a vast majority of people began working by age 4, typically on a farm, and were full time by 10. According to James Marten, a historian at Marquette University and the editor of The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth, it wasn't until the 1830s, as the U.S. economy began to shift from subsistence agriculture to industry and markets, that life began to change slowly for little kids. Parents were getting richer, family sizes fell and, by the 1850s, school attendance started to become mandatory. By the end of the Civil War, much of American culture had accepted the notion that children under 13 should be protected from economic life, and child-labor laws started emerging around the turn of the century. As the country grew wealthier over the ensuing decades, childhood expanded along with it. Eventually, teenagers were no longer considered younger, less-competent adults but rather older children who should be nurtured and encouraged to explore.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychologist at Clark University who coined the term "emerging adulthood," sees boomerang kids as the continuation of this centuries-long trend. Returning home, he told me, is a rational response to a radically different, confusing postindustrial economy. In past generations, most people took whatever work was available and, crucially, learned the necessary skills on the job. From 1945 to around 1978, amid the postwar boom, work life in America was especially benign and predictable. The wage gap between rich and poor shrank to its lowest level on record, and economic growth was widely shared.
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