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Boomerang Kids

by Rita Boland
Ray Rondinelli turned 27 in December. He lives at home with his parents, and spends most weekends following his favorite band around the Midwest. He hits the local bars three nights a week and is in two intramural softball leagues. His mom does his laundry sometimes, and puts dinner on the table most days by 6 PM. He went to Portland State University in Oregon for two years, and then rented a house with some friends outside of Chicago for a while. But with school loans hovering and debt mounting, he wound up back at home.

“This is what works for me right now,” said Rondinelli.

While it may seem like Rondinelli is lazy, he is part of an ever-growing population of twenty-somethings that for financial or personal reasons have decided to return to the nest. They have been labeled twixters, boomerang kids, and have what is known as quarter life crisis.

Betty Frain, Ph.D. in Growth and Development attributes several factors to the growing number of “boomerang” kids. In the past ten years, housing costs have doubled and school related debt is 85 percent higher; pay for entry level jobs has remained stagnant, said Frain.

“They want to grow up, they want to be independent,” said Frain. “There are so many forces stacked against them; they just remain between adolescence and adulthood longer.”

According to the U.S. Census, in 2006, 54 percent of men and 47 percent of women ages 18-24 resided at home with their parent or guardian. For adults 25 to 34 years of age, 14 percent of men and 9 percent of women reside at home. In 1970, only nine percent of men and less than seven percent of women 25-34 lived with their parents.

“The baby boom generation has been obsessed with perfect parenting,” said Frain. “[They] are creating a home that is nurturing and comforting for their children- too comfortable that adult children don’t want to leave.”

For Rondinelli, this is true. He spends a lot of time with his parents; he watches baseball games with his dad and helps his mom in the kitchen sometimes. He said he enjoys spending time with them, and they make living at home comfortable and easy.

“There is a comfort in the things the generations share, they have things in common,” said Frain, who shares interests with her children in music like Bob Dylan. “The generation gap has closed,” said Frain.

Rondinelli has held several jobs from telemarketer to bartender. He now drives a van and delivers sheet metal parts; he said he enjoys the freedom of being on the road all day. The job, however, does not offer benefits such as health insurance, which he pays out of pocket. He has worked for the company for two years, and soon he hopes to be promoted to management, which means a pay increase and benefits.

“So many [young adults] are working without the things their parents took for granted like retirement, health care, the cost of housing,” said Frain. “I wonder if this generation will ever be able to afford a home.”

Bill Ahmann has a different story than Rondinelli’s. He went to school for four years and graduated (with honors) without any school-related debt. Between savings and scholarships, he had paid for school by the time he was done. He also lived at home for those four years to save money.

After a year in the workforce, he decided to attend law school and make the move from mom and dads in the suburbs to downtown Chicago. After only two semesters, school related debt put Ahmann in the hole $47,000. He also decided that he no longer wanted to pursue a degree in law.

After three years of living on his own, Ahmann, 26, moved back home in October last year. After his stint in law school, he got a job as a paralegal, although he has been actively searching for a job relative to his degree, finance and economics.

“I’m taking advantage of living at home,” said Ahmann. “Living expenses here are fixed, and I don’t want to incur expenses not knowing what my income is going to be.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 1992- 1993 academic year, school related debt was $9,000. During the 2003-2004 year, average debt had sky rocketed to just shy of $20,000, doubling in just over ten years.

Ahmann said the economy did not help his job situation, and people with three to four years of experience were taking entry-level positions when he graduated.

“I’m not using the skills I learned in school at work,” he said. “That puts me at a disadvantage to new graduates.”

Ahmann is considering going back to school to get his masters degree or CFA to make himself “more marketable” to the companies he is seeking employment with. More school, however, means more debt. He said he will not be able to move out until he is on a career track, which now he is not.

“The finance market is an unfavorable, almost hostile environment,” said Ahmann. “Unfortunately, I’ll be taking a pay cut, but if it is for a job I love, it is worth it.”

Social factors have played a large role in the changing demographic of adults in their 20s, as well as economic factors. According to the American Sociological Association, in 1960, 70 percent of women age 25 had attained “traditional adult status” – meaning marriage, having children and a set career. In 2000, only 46 percent of woman had reached those achievement markers.

Jeannette Castillo graduated from DePaul University Chicago in February. She commuted from home in the South Suburbs for four years and since graduation, has had little luck finding a job. After several unpaid internships, she landed a part-time job on the weekends. Castillo, 23, is continuing her search, and keeps her internship during the week in hope of bulking her resume to impress potential employers. She is in no hurry to get married or have kids- she wants to figure her life out first.

“It’s so hard,” said Castillo. “But I like living at home. My parents help me out so much with everything, and they understand that it is taking some time to get my career and life headed in the right direction.”

The phenomenon of adult children living at home with their parents has become so popular, that in 2006, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey starred in a movie, Failure to Launch, about the issue. McConaughey plays a 30-something who still lives at home, with his mom waiting on him hand and foot. Frain commented on the situation for the DVD.

“A lot of parents are wondering if they are giving too much,” said Frain. “They wonder if by allowing their grown children back into the house, they will ever get them out again.”

Social acceptance of young adults has grown with the shrinking economy. While at one point, moving back home was seen as taboo or a sign of failure, people are now more understanding of factors that may hinder a recent grad or young professional from living on their own.

Ryan O’Reilly, author of Snapshot, is all too familiar with the quarter life crisis. He graduated college, had a house with a white picket fence and a good job. One day at work he realized he was “staring at the next 30 years right here.” He quit his job, moved across the country, and ended up on the road managing a band for the next three years.

His book is loosely based on his own experiences. The main character has a quarter life crisis, leaves corporate America and takes off across the country on his Harley Davidson. Along the way, the unnamed main character meets people and has experiences that help him to identify who he is and what he wants in life.

O’Reilly said that part of what comes after school is this identity crisis. If you do not build some time in after you graduate to figure yourself out, you may end up like the character in his book and lose yourself he said.

“Our society is getting to the point where we’re not quite as traditional as we once were. We don’t have this set process we have to follow,” O’Reilly said. “You have to go to school, graduate, have a career. I think we are finally getting to the point where we don’t have to do that. We don’t have to get locked into that routine.”

People like Rondinelli (twixter), Ahmann (boomerang kid) and O’Reilly(quarter-lifer) are doing just that, using their youth to figure out the rest of their lives. Rondinelli said he has the rest of life to be responsible, he just wants to make sure when he gets there, he knows he is where he wants to be,

“You may make a little less money, and you might feel a little lost from time to time, but you are doing it on your own terms,” said O’Reilly. “It is important to find something [in] the world that you are truly passionate about and still be able to balance needs, wants and obligations.”

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