Recession has forced young workers to be closer to family

commentJuly 23, 2012 

My daughter, now in her 30s, made an interesting observation on the generation coming up behind her -- the 18 to 29 year olds called the "millennial generation," because they came of age at the beginning of the 21st century.

"These people are so close to their parents," she observed. "Some call them five or six times a day."

"I've even heard of their parents calling employers and accepting jobs for them!"

She is right about this generation's closeness to their parents.

"They get along well with their parents," concludes a Pew Foundation Report on this generation. "Looking back on their teenage years, millennials report having fewer spats with mom or dad than older adults say they had with their own parents."

My daughter's explanation is that the baby boomer generation who raised them wanted to be "friends" with their children. She may be partly right.

But there is a darker explanation as well: This generation grew up in the midst of an economic recession that has created high levels of unemployment, damaged their future income prospects and made them depend more on their families.

The Pew Research center for Social and Demographic Trends interviewed more than 2,000 adults from the millennial generation.

Generations tend to have a defining historical experience, which makes them different from other generations. For baby boomers, that experience was the Vietnam War. For the "Greatest Generation," it was World War II.

For the millennial generation, their defining event, unfortunately, is the current recession, and it has hit them hard.

The underemployment rate of 18 to 24 year-olds was 29 percent in 2011 and 17 percent for workers aged 25 through 34, according to national statistics. ("Underemployment" means people who are unemployed, who are in poor-paying jobs below their qualifications or who have dropped out of the labor force.)

For blacks and Hispanics the underemployment rate is far worse with almost half of black 18-24 year-olds underemployed and one-third of Hispanics.

As adults, the millennials have had to depend on their parents far more than earlier generations. One in eight millennials have boomeranged, saying they have had to move back home because they can't find a job or a job that pays enough for them to live on.

Even when they have full or part -time jobs, only about a third say they are making enough money to live.

Unfortunately this generation is competing for jobs not only with their classmates but with other young adults who were unable to find jobs in previous years. They are also competing with older adults who have been laid off during the recession and have the advantage of more work experience.

"One-in-two recent college graduates are either jobless or underemployed," reports Business Insider.

This generation also faces large college debts, an average of $25,250, reports the Institute for College Success and Accountability.

The recession seems to have changed their values from careers to family life, finds the Pew Report.

When asked what was the most important things in their lives, 52 percent said "being a good parent" and 30 percent said "having a successful marriage." Only 15 percent considered "having a high-paid career" as one of the most important things in their lives.

But many are not getting the satisfactions of marriage and parenting either.

Millennials are markedly less likely to have married or to have children than earlier generations. Seventy-five percent have never married. Only 12 percent are married with children in the home.

Perhaps because they are closer to their parents and must depend on them, more than 60 percent figure that they have the responsibility to have an elderly parent live with them if their parents want to. (Far fewer of their parents, just 25 percent, think this is a moral responsibility.)

To come of age in hard times is a damaging situation. The millennial generation is weathering it by a shift in their values. Family ties are getting stronger while commitment to career success is weakening.

Judith Kleinfeld is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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