Editor's note: This article is one in a series called "The Way We Work," which explores jobs that are no longer necessary and have thus disappeared, the changing work climate for all, including its effects on college graduates and the older work force, and the new jobs that have come along and what they require.
Many college graduates are finding themselves in a decidedly retro phenomenon, where economic independence starts from the security of their parents' homes.
"What seems to be changing is not that kids are returning home for a while after college, but how long they are living at home before they can leave," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Long Island's Hofstra University. That could have widespread implications for local communities.
Changing economic dynamics and cultural shifts are among the reasons experts cite for the re-emergence of nuclear, multi-generational family homes not unlike family units of post-WWII America.
More Kids at Home, Less Stigma
A study by the Pew Research Center of U.S. Census data determined that 39 percent of adults (ages 18-34) live with a parent or moved back home at some point during recent years. Among those who have just graduated high school or college (ages 18-24), 53 percent lived at home or moved back temporarily.
Those figures represent the highest percent of Americans living in multi-generational homes since the 1950s, the Pew study said.
In many affluent suburbs, insecurity about economic prospects often predeominate. An extensive survey by the Stony Brook University Center for Survey Research from the fall of 2011 was a snapshot of life in post-recession suburbia: nearly 70 percent of the Long Island households surveyed with family incomes between $35,000-$100,000 annually reported some difficulty in meeting their monthly mortgage or rental payments.
An Associated Press report in April that said opportunities for college graduates vary widely. The report indicated that those with degrees in the arts and humanities may have a long wait ahead of them.
Levy's take: "These are not your mother's and father's suburbs."
In the Pew study, nearly half of these so-called "boomerang" children report paying rent to their parents and almost 90 percent have helped with household expenses.
The social stigma of living at home may also be disappearing, many experts report. The Pew study said about 75 percent of returning young people reported the living arrangements were either good (24 percent) or about the same as before they left (48 percent).
Many reported having college friends in the same circumstances, and unlike previous generations, the explosion of social media keeps them in touch with college friends who are far away.
Sharply Divided Generations
Levy is a Baby Boomer, and after college, he traveled a bit and moved back home briefly, but picking a career and moving out went together naturally. He spent 30 years as a journalist, eventually becoming chief political columnist at Newsday.
"It is clear that this (new) generation now faces much bigger debt, car loans and school loans, credit card costs," Levy said. Looking at his friends and neighbors, he sees suburban newcomers who are more comfortable with a multi-generational family arrangement than the previous generations that turned Long Island's farms into bedroom communities of shopping plazas and armies of commuters to Manhattan.
He might as well be talking about Laura Conte. "I'm still at home because I enjoy it," said the 24-year-old public relations specialist. "I do not make enough money to live on my own and save the way that I want to. My monthly bills are fairly low and I think it is more beneficial to save my money at this point."
Even the secure are staying home. Financial advisor 29, is a practical, accomplished professional who understands the importance of saving for the future. Since graduating SUNY Binghamton, Trugman, who teaches others how to be responsible with money, first lived at home or with his dad and later shared a place with a brother. Now he has his own place, an apartment in a Long Island suburb about 30 miles east of Manhattan—but that is a recent development.
"It's financially challenging to enjoy a certain lifestyle while building a practice, and finding the time to pursue professional designations," he said.
In many ways, Trugman is the norm among educated suburbanites who didn't want to leave their home communities and were willing to re-adjust to living with relatives. His approach can be strikingly pragmatic to people who think of their 20s as a time to head out adventurously into the world and start a career.
For Conte, a 1950s-style scenario sounds just fine. "I would like to stay at home until I get married or save enough money to put a down payment on a house," the LIU post-graduate said. "Whichever happens first."