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Sonn: Rise of the Boomerang Kids

BY BARRETT SONN | SEPTEMBER 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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While the summer was slowly dissolving, one hour, one day, one month at a time, I talked with many of my friends about the dread we were feeling, facing the beginning of a new school year. Dread at the end of a vacation is pretty common, but this was different, more existential. Then I realized we were all seniors (or something very close to that). After a little probing, I came to the conclusion that we were all feeling antsy and nervous, not because the school year was starting but because we were all nearing an important crossroad in our lives: the end of school. The questions we ask ourselves looking ahead one year changed from “What classes?” and “East Side or West Side?” to “What jobs?” and “East Coast or West Coast?”

You know that cliché about the Andy Pipkin-esque guy in his 30s living in his mom’s basement while having the questionable reputation of simultaneously being a leech and a video-game connoisseur? It’s something we young bloods are all afraid of becoming, and it’s something many parents are afraid of, as well.

Unfortunately for society, a new study shows that the number of young adults living with their parents has increased, even though the economy has been improving one tiny step at a time. The number of these individuals has reached a point where they even have their own special nickname: Boomerang Kids.

These individuals are usually in their 20s, relatively fresh out of college; they were thrown out into the college world at 18, hovered for a moment on the brink of adulthood, then circled back to the old homestead.  

A Pew Research report issued this month found that 36 percent of Millennials — adults between 18 and 31 — lived in their parents’ houses in 2012. That’s 21.6 million Boomerang Kids, the highest share of the young-adult population in at least 40 years.

Clearly, things haven’t worked out for us exactly as we’d hoped.

Things happen: We change majors, we move to new states, we get married to our fifth choice, so on and so forth. There’s a saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Whether you’re religious or not, the point is that you can plan all you want, but no plan is completely and utterly foolproof. It’s all about adjusting to what life throws at you as best as you can.

Though many twists of fate are beyond our control, Boomerang Kids and basement dwellers in general get a bad rap. Is it fair? No, it probably isn’t. This is one of those things where the perception doesn’t necessarily match the reality of the situation. While the aforementioned basement video gamers do exist, there’s obviously no direct correlation between living in a basement and being a net loss to society.

Of course, perception probably isn’t the most important “issue” with Boomerang Kids. The issue is what they aren’t: independent. They, by nature, rely on their parents to support them past the age we associate with things such as financial independence. As the number of Boomerang Kids grows, their collective situation could manifest itself in an entire generation’s feelings on work, family life, and society more broadly. It’s an unpleasant possibility, and it’s not exactly clear what the solution is, short of parents absolutely refusing to take their kids back in post-college (which would just create millions of homeless young adults).

Though the solution is not readily apparent, we can’t afford to let Boomerang Kids become just another part of society, just another unpleasant side effect of our lifestyle.


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