Moving In To Move On
Emma is 25, has a masters degree in social work from a prestigious college, and $40,000 in school loans. Her entry-level job pays only $24,000 and she lives in a town where even sharing an apartment would cost at least $600 a month. She’s back at her parents’ home living in the same bedroom she had as a child. “I love my work but I hate it that I can’t be independent because of school loans. In 20-20 hindsight, I wish I’d gone to a less expensive school.”
Ramon will be graduating in June with a major in fine art. He wants to follow his dream to be a portrait artist. His professors praise his work. He’s won prizes. But he’s unlikely to be able to support himself on art alone. Although his school debt is a relatively low total of $12,000 thanks to summer jobs working for a local builder, it’s still scary. When pushed to take a contracting job, he says, “I’m only an artist if I make art. If I get too far away from it, I may never do it.” Although his dad appreciates Ramon’s talent, he also thinks he should take whatever job he can get because the first priority is to pay his bills. His mom isn’t so sure. She wants Ramon to be an adult but if he needs to move in for awhile to start his career as an artist, maybe they ought to do that for a few years.
Ray, now 27, graduated two years ago with an MBA and a debt load of $60,000 from both undergrad and graduate school. His first job pays $64,000 a year. One would think he has it easy in comparison to the human services workers and artists of the world. One would think he’d be in digs of his own. Nope. He’s back at the folks’ too, having run up credit card debt of $10,000 and having financed a new car. He’s overwhelmed by his debts but he still isn’t facing the reality of having to live on a budget. His folks are upset that he’s moved back in but feel bewildered about whether they have a right to challenge how he uses his paycheck.
The parents of these young people are mystified. Few of them ended up living back at their parents after graduation. They didn’t want to and certainly didn’t expect to. As they give up the idea of a home office in the kid’s old room or make the basement into a semi-independent living space, they feel torn. On the one hand, they do want to help, especially if their adult child seems to be doing all he can or made a financial mistake she is willing to work hard to fix. On the other hand, it’s hard to be sympathetic when the kid who complains about paying some rent buys a new Blackberry. It’s only a little comforting to learn that 68 percent of boomer generation parents like themselves are providing financial support to an adult child.
Blame doesn’t help.
Whatever the reason for the return home, it can be stressful for all involved. It’s often helpful for everyone to take a step back and consider what contributed to the situation. Blaming, criticizing, and complaining doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it tends to shut down conversation.
It’s not entirely the kids’ fault. College expenses have outstripped inflation. Back in the early 1970s, a hard-working student could make enough money with a full-time job in the summer and a part-time job during the school year to pay for a substantial percentage of a year at a state college. Not so anymore. A summer of hard work often results in only enough money to buy textbooks and a couple of new pairs of jeans.