A giant social experiment

I recently read an article by BBC reporter Zoe Thomas about young adults living with their parents. The coronavirus pandemic has led millions of young Americans to move back in with their parents. According to the article the number of adults living with their parents in the U.S. is at its highest level since the Great Depression. Thomas’ focus was on young adults, mostly students, who were able to continue their schoolwork and, in many cases their employment from any location and who had chosen to move back to their parents’ home, sometimes bringing along a spouse or significant other with them.

There are, of course, financial benefits to moving back with parents. With many colleges and universities no longer offering year-round housing options, the marketplace is experiencing a shortage of inventory when it comes to rental housing. When we made our move here, we decided to rent for a year while we shop for a new home and make decision about what kind of house we want to have and exactly where we want to live. At first, when we started to look for rental housing we were struck by what seemed to us to be high prices. Then we found that there weren’t too many available houses for rent at any price. As it turned out we got lucky in part because we found a landlord who chose us over renting to another group of students. The house meets our needs very well and has just undergone a significant updating after being rented to multiple young adults.

Our being in the market, however, puts significant pressures on students and other young adults who are just entering the housing market.

There are other reasons, however, besides financial that induce young adults to move back in with their parents. With the need to keep the bubbles of contact small and to stay away from large social gatherings, one way to maintain relationships is to live in close proximity to family. After a couple of weeks of careful quarantine to make sure that no one has been infected, households can operate normally. Young adults who do not live at home may not be able to visit within the constraints of their time schedules.

There are, of course, costs to moving back home. There is a sense of the loss of independence and freedom. There are old patterns of relationship that need to be reexamined and, in many cases, altered in order to adjust to children having become adults. Homes that were comfortable for children growing up may not have adequate work space for adults working from home. Privacy can be an issue, depending on the layout of the physical space.

Until we began the process of making a move during the pandemic, I hadn’t particularly noticed the number of families and individuals who were on the move. After we had rented a truck and trailer to make our move, however, I started to notice the number of rental moving trailers and trucks that are on the roads. We were constantly seeing others who were moving household. We suspect that a fair number of those pulling trailers or driving smaller rental vans were young adults. We wondered how many of those who were making moves were, like us, heading off to a new adventure and making a joyous life change and how many were forced to move and trying to make the best choice from a field of less than desirable options.

Chances are good that the beginning of 2021 will see the number of people moving on the increase as millions of Americans face eviction as temporary unemployment and housing assistance programs expire and congress remains deadlocked in the process of trying to provide relief. A lot of those who will be left in a bind will not have the option that many young adults do of moving in with parents who have an established home. There will be many families who move in together with inadequate space because there is no other option for them.

We have been privileged all of our lives with reasonable housing options. After I moved out of home to go to college, I spent three summers back at my parents’ place. Those summers I not only had housing provided by my parents, I worked in my father’s business, so I also had a job provided. After that, we were able to live in housing provided by schools and after graduation by the church we served. I was 35 years old when we began the process of purchasing our first home. Interest rates were skyrocketing. We felt lucky to secure an adjustable rate mortgage that was under 10%. Fortunately for us mortgage rates were peaking at the time and each time the rate adjusted it adjusted down in our favor and after a few years we were able to refinance into a fixed rate mortgage. Income tax rates also favor clergy when it comes to housing, so owning our home has been supported by our employers and the rules of the federal tax code.

The world is so much different for young adults today than it was for us. Many colleges and universities are taking extended breaks over the holidays. During the regular school year they have been offering remote learning that does not require living on campus. They are discouraging community living in dormitories and in many cases no longer offering housing options for students. Once learning is not tied to a specific location, students are thrust into a housing market where they are competing with workers in many industries who are discovering that they can work remotely and no longer have to live near their employer’s facilities.

We feel very fortunate to have a comfortable home in these uncertain times. Furthermore, we’ve moved close to our son and grandchildren so we have the opportunity to participate in their lives and receive support from them. We weren’t forced to move into their house, but are able to live close enough to have their assistance when needed.

Hard times often give families the opportunity to reinvent relationships and discover new ways of living. Hopefully the young adults who are currently living with their parents will discover the advantages of the situation along with their parents. At any rate, we’re engaged in a huge social experiment and like all experiments, we don’t know how it will end. Surprises remain.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!