It’s The Age Of The Boomerangers

Susan Page
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Wednesday - June 01, 2011
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CNN Money calls them “boomerangers.” Another online blog calls them “the screwed generation.” In literal terms, they are today’s college graduates who are returning back to the nest their parents had finally gotten happily accustomed to being empty.

According to a recent report in the Baltimore Sun, a survey revealed that 80 percent of 2010 college graduates boomeranged back into their former twin beds and Justin Timberlakepostered bedrooms.

Some experts blame the economy and student loan and credit card debt. Others blame coddling baby boomer parents who got their progeny hooked on a lifestyle impossible to sustain on a starter wage.

They suggest that in this technology age, expensive Internet toys like iPhones, iPads, DVRs and Netflix can feel like survival requirements, not luxury options. Add private transportation and dining out to the post-grad sticker shock and the gravitational pull toward Mommy and Daddy becomes overpowering despite obvious negatives to both parent and child.

I surveyed my 30-something son on the subject, who says vehemently, “Mom, I would have never moved back in with you. After living five years on my own, why would I ever do that?” He said it wasn’t because he hates me. Whew. Unsolicited comments kept coming about what lengths he would’ve gone to in order not to have had to move back home - including a combination of fast food employment, mowing lawns and sharing lodging with a large group in seedy conditions. He actually joined the Marine Corps out of college, which says a lot.

Actually, I take his comments as a compliment. My daughter also went to extremes to avoid moving back home post-college. She swears she lived off rice and saimin for a year while working three jobs in the D.C. area, before finally becoming debt free and being in a position to live halfway decently. Now she makes a fine living thanks to her earlier sacrifice and hard work.

Yes, I love my children, but I am not their welfare provider. I gave them exactly what my parents gave me: a good family life, values, encouragement, rules, a home and food, an education, tools for becoming self-sufficient and a one-way ticket to a world of possibilities.

Would they be there for me if I were in dire straits?

Of course - as would my husband and I be there for our kids.

Today, it seems that often the debt students incur to attend college now outpaces the salary they’ll earn to pay it back. Acquiring debt is like gambling on the perfect hand. (Just ask the U.S. government.) Advising high school students to take out large loans for a prestigious university education is like promising perfect economic conditions when you graduate - impossible.

And, some online student comments indicate they feel blindsided by counselors who painted them a rosy future. It’s now a 15 percent unemployment rate for 20- to 25-year-olds.

Most graduating students today loathe the idea of moving back home, though there seems to be no stigma attached, according to marketing research. One recent Penn State grad, who has been living with her mother while looking for a job, said in a CNN Money article, “It’s not bad living with my mom, but I feel like a little kid. I have “”

My cousin Carol, whose daughter Paige is a graduating high school senior going off to American University in the fall, is feeling the sting of a nest growing empty. “Wouldn’t you want to come live back home with me after graduating, Paige?” she asked with a sad voice and furrowed brow. Paige grimaced, then vowed to work on a ranch in Wyoming if she can’t find a job in her field. Now, all full of the uncorrupted hope of youth, she is certain.

Given all the advice she’s gotten about the evils of debt, I think Paige will avoid being a “boomeranger.” But there is obviously a backward-moving trend which portends scarier problems with higher education and our economy in general. It’s far deeper than just a generation reluctant to leave the nest for good because of the goodies it provides.

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