In a county with a cost of living high above the national average, many young adults living in Ventura County may find it hard to get by, especially with an ominous unemployment rate of 11.1 percent. In order to save money, finish school or to take time to jump-start their careers, some have chosen to return to their parents’ homes. Christina Newberry, founder of the Web site AdultChildrenLivingatHome.com, refers to these returning adult children as “boomerang kids.” However, aside from the economic benefits, Newberry notes that it can also be a rewarding experience for parents and children alike in many different ways.
“In terms of family benefits, it’s a great way for parents and adult children to connect as adults,” Newberry said. “In our culture, we don’t often spend a lot of time with our parents once we are adults, and we never really get to know them as real people. Living together can change that.”
Families coming together and making it work
Lisa Marie Gonzalez, 24, a Port Hueneme resident, lived with her boyfriend for one year before she decided to move in with her father. “I like being there with him,” she said. Gonzalez moved in with her father two years ago, after he was diagnosed with cancer. “I would definitely say that moving in with my daddy has strengthened our relationship. I was primarily raised by my mom growing up, with visits from my dad,” she said. Gonzalez admits that though they have “occasional squabbles,” she enjoys the “safety and security” of living with her dad.
In addition to being able to bond with her father, Gonzalez sees the economic benefit of living with him. “Living on my own would definitely be a lot harder,” she said. “We’re going to buy a condo and split up the mortgage.”
Vickie Herrera, 24, a Ventura resident, said she lived on her own for one year before choosing to move back home. “It allows me to save money and go to school full time,” she said. “It’s cheaper to live at home, and bills are so expensive.”
Herrera said that it is now easier for her to focus on finishing school since she returned home and no longer has to make sacrifices in order to pay expenses. Prior to her move, Herrera was attending Ventura College off and on. She now attends Simi Valley Adult School and Career Institute, majoring in cosmetology, and works part time at Lancôme in the Pacific View Mall.
While the financial and family benefits can be great, it could become an unpleasant situation if household rules are not established. Newberry explained that everyone should follow “agreed-upon guidelines,” including issues dealing with overnight guests, privacy rules and chores.
“We get along fine now,” Herrera said, “but at first, I had to be home at a certain time. I can’t have boys over and can’t stay over at a boy’s house. I have chores now.” Herrera explained that once she had a discussion with her parents about her concerns, a lot of the tension was gone.
“I had to talk to them to make them understand that I’m an adult and they have to let me do my own stuff,” she said. Some of the rules are still in place, but Herrera feels that the conversation helped and that time was needed for her to readjust to living in her parents’ home.
Newberry also believes that there should be a clear understanding of what it costs the parents to house an extra person by addressing entitlement issues at the start of such arrangements.
“At the time, I never thought about what my stay was costing my parents, though I did contribute to the household as much as I could by doing chores, cooking and so on,” Newberry said.
“Living with your adult kids can be a positive experience for both you and them, as long as you know how to make it work and are prepared to put in the effort,” Newberry said. She also warns against the danger of giving too much, which “may not be doing your adult children any favors” and could actually harm their chances of being successful in the future.
Jordan David Schaefer, 25, a Santa Paula resident, has yet to move out of his parents’ home. “Monetarily, I just can’t,” he said. Although Schaefer cannot live on his own, he is thankful for his close relationship with his parents as well as the support they provide.
Adult children like Gonzalez, Herrera and Schaefer are not rare cases. Newberry noted that, “25 million adult children are living with their parents, in the U.S. alone.” Newberry herself lived with her parents as an adult after moving out twice, which helped her learn “a few key strategies,” she said.
Changing times, bad economy
Ventura County 5th District Supervisor John Zaragoza attributes the trend of adults living at home to the current condition of the economy and the high cost of living that exists not just in Ventura County, but throughout much of California. Additionally, he points out that the attitudes of young adults have changed over the past 15 years.
“Kids are staying home longer and deferring getting married early,” Zaragoza said. “Times are changing.” He explained that his own children moved out early, but nowadays young adults are choosing either to stay or to return home after living on their own. “More so here, because it’s an expensive area,” he said.
Zaragoza also believes that the high cost of living needs to be addressed and that “we need to create jobs — high-end jobs” for young adults so they can afford to live and grow in Ventura County. Creating high-paying jobs would give young adults a better chance to live on their own rather than having to depend on family or move out of state in search of a more affordable area. “We need to entice the children to stay here with better jobs,” he emphasized.
Zaragoza noted that supporting schools and universities is important as well, so that kids can have good educations that may lead to the possibility of better careers.
Bill Watkins, executive director at the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at California Lutheran University, explained that even the college graduate is having “a very difficult time finding a job.” Instead, some decide to move back home and take the time to get additional education, such as a master’s degree. However, the root of the problem is high unemployment rather than a lack of education.
“We’re still waiting for the census to come out, but there’s definitely a sense that it’s happening,” Watkins said of the trend in adults living at home. “Even when the economy was fairly good, it was happening.” In the past, young adults might have chosen to get married and have kids earlier, but that no longer seems to be the norm, especially now that the economy is suffering. Watkins said that with dropping wages and high unemployment in the county, many simply cannot afford to live on their own. Even those who are able to get jobs find that their wages are not enough to keep up with the cost of living or support the lifestyle they are accustomed to.
According to the District of Columbia Department of Employment services, Ventura County ranked fourth in 2009 on a list of 26 large counties that experienced a decline in average weekly wages (-4.8 percent).
The Dyer Sheehan Group, Inc., a real estate consulting, market research and brokerage firm in Ventura, stated that the January 2010 overall Ventura County average rent for a two-bedroom was $1,450 a month; July 2009 was $1,497, reflecting a 3.1 percent decline in the last six months. The overall average rent in January 2009 was $1,579.
Although there was a decrease in the average cost of rent, declining wages and high unemployment still make it difficult for young adults to live independently, without the support of family. Watkins explained that although living alone would be difficult, some young adults rent with multiple roommates, so that the monthly costs are more affordable.
The AAGLA noted that, despite the decrease in cost of rent, rental markets in the Ventura County are continuing to suffer. Moorpark, in particular, has been hit the hardest with a vacancy rate of 7.72 percent, while Santa Paula had the lowest vacancy rate in the county at 3.11 percent. Overall rents are down by about 9 percent. Perhaps young adults who once lived on their own are abandoning the rental market to live in their parents’ homes, away from the burden of monthly rent, and seeking financial help during these difficult times.
Intergenerational housing in society
Dr. Daniel Lee, associate professor of sociology at California State University, Channel Islands, explained, “If we take the perspective of adult children, returning home can become an increasingly attractive option in light of current economic and political conditions: a shrinking job market, declining wages and benefits, along with unprecedented cutbacks in higher education and other social services. Choosing to go back to their old bedrooms, they may feel as if their parents treat them as dependent children, offering advice, critiquing lifestyle choices, expressing concern for their future plans.”
Dr. Lee noted that parents of boomerang children might wonder why they are unable to support themselves. However, “Baby boomers must admit that as a cohort, they were able to take advantage of a healthier job market and higher wages, abundant credit, more affordable housing and transportation costs, safer communities, a stronger public health system, and much more generously supported schools and public universities,” he said.
Additionally, adult children are returning at a time when their aging baby boomer parents are happy to welcome their homecoming. “The ability of the relatively pampered generation to expect financial and social security as they age is now threatened by drastic declines in pension funds, the real estate market crash, increasing health care and prescription drug costs, fundamental problems with Social Security and Medicare, and the dismantling of tax-supported programs that help the elderly remain socially engaged and stay in their own homes. The Good Society is being dismantled; this is a time for the different generations to look to each other for solidarity and compassion,” Dr. Lee said.
While this may be a noticeably increasing trend in our society, particularly since the economy is in bad shape, intergenerational housing is not uncommon in other countries. Dr. Lee noted that it is “a common phenomenon in many Asian and European countries and has been the subject of many studies.”
“Findings suggest that parents and children are testing out new roles and different forms of attachment. Children are increasingly ‘parenting’ their parents. Individuals have a longer life expectancy, and this means that there is more time for family members to renegotiate power relations and reciprocal responsibilities in the home. Children and parents are confronting the fact that family relationships and intergenerational commitments must evolve as personalities and bodies mature,” Dr. Lee said.
Is this growing social trend good or harmful to society? Dr. Lee explained that sociologists get into trouble when attempting to “use their scientific resources to determine whether or not any particular social phenomenon is good or bad.” However, examining the personal accounts of some of the boomerang children living in the county, it seems that living at home is, at least, beneficial for them and their families. As Newberry explained, the experience can be rewarding and invaluable for parents and their adult children if they put in the effort to make it work.
It seems that there is a silver lining in the midst of this recession. The road to a full economic recovery may be long, but many young adults are returning home, strengthening bonds with their parents and reaching new understandings of each other or, like Gonzalez, taking advantage of the opportunity to create a bond that was not made in the past.
Now, more than ever, different generations are looking to lean on one another for support – financial, emotional and everything in between. Times certainly have changed, and it seems that people are changing along with them.