The Snoopy quilt hanging in Louis Foudos’s bedroom in Towson is incongruous with the videography equipment, track-and-field magazines, and master’s-level textbooks on the shelves. Snoopy, wearing a bright yellow cap and swinging a baseball bat, was hand-stitched by Louis’s grandmother when he was a child, and it still decorates the wall. Louis doesn’t see the point in removing it—he is, after all, still sleeping in his own boyhood bedroom. At 26 and a 2009 graduate of Towson University [TU], Louis is what is known as a “boomerang kid,” a college graduate who lives with his parents out of financial necessity, despite having a degree and a job. Just as a boomerang revolves backward to the thrower, young adults are likewise returning home in record numbers—sometimes sheepishly, and sometimes strategically—when they find they cannot support themselves independently.
“There’s jobs out there, but no careers,” says Louis, who is enrolled in TU’s master’s program in special education and works at Seton Keough High School as the track coach. He is also a videographer and racing-event timekeeper with Running Maryland.
Louis is counting the days until 2014, when he will have his master’s degree and, ideally, a teaching job at a public school that will allow him to move out of his parents’ house and leave Snoopy behind.
Whether there will be a job waiting for Louis, however, is anyone’s guess. Even someone from one of the world’s biggest mutual-fund portfolio firms doesn’t feel he can offer a perspective on the difficult economy that a recent college grad faces.
“What I observe is that the rising cost of college, coupled with a very muted employment market, has put a significant squeeze on college graduates,” says Robert Hagstrom, the chief investment strategist and managing director of Legg Mason Investment Counsel. “The single biggest expense item post-graduation is finding a place to live. Returning home removes a huge financial burden.”
Right now, Louis’s annual income from cobbling together several part-time jobs is less than $15,000, but he works so many hours, in addition to his graduate classes, that his mother can’t rely on him to be home in time to let the dog out.
“The economy is a problem,” acknowledges Sharon Foudos, 56, Louis’s mother, whose younger son, Mark, 23, is also living at home after graduating from college. Sharon works at TU, so Louis’s and Mark’s undergrad tuitions were fully reimbursed, and Louis’s graduate education is partially reimbursed. “What they have to make now [is much more than] what we had to make when we moved out,” says Sharon. “I don’t want them moving out struggling. I want them to own something.”
It’s a modern goal with a traditional twist—even with Sharon’s open-ended support, the household still has rules. Louis knows better than even to try to pursue an intimate relationship while he’s still under his parents’ roof.
“No,” he says flatly, without elaboration, when asked whether he’d try to bring a girlfriend home, and Sharon is equally succinct in her feelings.
“I can answer for Lou and I,” she says. “No. We don’t believe in that until marriage.”
There are other ground rules, too. While Sharon doesn’t ask either of her sons for a financial contribution, she relies on them to empty the dishwasher or fill the car with gas. Louis pays for his own incidentals and is responsible for his own tuition.
“Every once in a while they’ll surprise me and do something unexpected,” says Sharon, who was touched when Louis bought her a new pair of sneakers. “That’s more appreciated than charging them something a month.”
According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, 73 percent of adults between the ages of 40 and 59 have provided financial help in the past year to a grown child, with 27 percent of the adults in the same age group primarily supporting a grown child. These figures show a six percent increase since 2005.
But, for Louis, it may run in the family.
“I didn’t move out of the house until I got married,” says Louis Sr., 56. “I was almost 30 years old. It was good to be able to stay home and get your financial footing as well as your educational footing without a lot of pressure.”
Louis is too busy to care whether he is exempt from parental pressure or not.
“I just don’t have the time to do things,” he says, admitting that he used to be in charge of the dog and taking out the trash, but has let it go since his father retired. “I take care of my own things. If the living room needs to be vacuumed, I won’t worry about it.”
In Japan, a boomerang kid is called a “parasite single,” according to a 2012 PBS NewsHour report. But happily for Louis, he can continue to ignore the living room carpet and fully focus on his own independence, continuing education, and career, and be perfectly normal—not “parasitic” at all, according to Samara Stone, a clinical social worker.
“In terms of developmental stages, we find young adults to be a bit more self-focused, and having a desire to focus their energies on what they want to do, instead of things that contribute to the larger whole,” Stone says. “I would say that it is completely appropriate for a young person who is maturing into adulthood to focus on their own lives, and their own sense of self.”
Having practiced social work for 13 years, Stone is familiar with the struggles of the millennial generation as its members come of age and seek independence.
“A child that says, ‘I am going to return home and save up my money’—it’s a strategic move at that point, as opposed to something born out of lack,” she says. “The thing is whether or not it’s a conscious decision.”
Stone says if a young person from the 1980s were catapulted into 2013, they might feel hopeless and overwhelmed, but today’s young people are steeped in the economic truths of their own generation, which is seeing a return to the multi-generational family, bumping elbows in line outside the bathroom, and living in cramped quarters. (“You learn to deal with it,” comments Sharon, dryly, about lining up for the toilet.)
But Dr. Katherine S. Newman, the author of a 2012 book about boomerang kids called The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents and the Private Toll of Global Competition, thinks a clash is unlikely in today’s multi-generational households because the educational and cultural gap is lesser now than ever before.
“Their feelings about movies, politics, it’s nowhere near the divide that was so pronounced when I was young,” says Newman, the dean of The Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.
Newman says that sharing the same tastes can help the family live in harmony.
“I think about the difference in the music my parents listened to when they were young, and how it didn’t interest me,” says Newman. “But my children do listen to The Rolling Stones. They do listen to The Beatles, and they are not offended by the popular culture of my youth. In fact, they’ve recycled it.”
Indeed, Louis can tap his toe to the opening credits of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which his parents still watch in reruns. “It’s a good theme song,” he says. “Don’t knock it.”
But he still really wants his own space.
“If I were making 40k, would I be living at home?” asks Louis. “Who would do that?”
Amanda Woika would. Amanda, 25, graduated from Towson University in 2011 with a degree in nursing and now works as an operating-room nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital. She was hired for more than $40,000, but unlike Louis, she has an overwhelming burden of student loans that keeps her living with her parents in Perry Hall.
Her mom, Cindy, views Amanda as more of an adult roommate than a child, and the pair agrees their family gets along well.
“For as long as she needs to get straightened out, she’s welcome to stay at home,” says Cindy, 44, who takes turns with Amanda cooking dinner and buying groceries. “I want her to pay off her loans and her car, so she can purchase a house and not start off with a large debt. So she can live comfortably.”
With $30,000 in student loan debt, Amanda also took on the burden of a car payment, swapping her old sedan for a $28,000 Toyota Highlander that could get her to work in the snow—nearly doubling her total debt. She pays her car payments, car insurance, student loans, credit cards, and pays her parents $200 a month toward the college loans they shouldered on her behalf.
“I definitely want to be out before I’m 30,” says Amanda, who crammed herself back into her childhood bedroom after graduation, her college shot glasses now sharing shelf space with her old snow globes. Her adult furniture is in storage, which she pays for, from the off-campus apartment she had while she was in school. She thought about trying to move out last year, but discovered quickly that neither she, nor her friends, were ready.
“This past summer I started looking at houses,” says Amanda. “I contacted some of my girlfriends and said, ‘If I buy a house, would you want to rent from me?’”
But they were living with their own parents, still trying to save money. Amanda was amazed, and a little disheartened, at how long it takes to become financially independent.
“One friend is a hairstylist, and she’s been working since 2008 and can’t afford to move out!” says Amanda. “Another girl, she now works for a doctor’s office, and same thing—she moved back home after college, and can’t afford it.”
But independence can, and does, happen. Samara Stone, for one, is sure of a shiny future for the twentysomethings she counsels and their generation.
“Young people,” Stone says, “by virtue of their developmental stage, are optimistic to what their future can bring.”
Case in point: Amanda. “Three more years at most!” she chirps.
Louis is optimistic, too. “At some point, everything will come together,” he says. “Making money is hard. Establishing a career is difficult. But within the next two years, I’d say it’s a 75 percent chance that I’ll be out.”
Snoopy, however, will be left at home.