Post-Grad Woes Turn Old Homes New Again

ImageThe morning after Peter Weinberg received his undergraduate diploma, he awoke in a Manhattan house filled with amenities. After spending four years consuming incalculable servings of ramen at Vermont’s Middlebury College, he faced a new set of daily choices: Should he eat chocolate croissants or cornflakes for breakfast? Which premium cable channel should he watch? Should he lift dumbbells or run on the treadmill?

Weinberg, 23, once thought he would need a well-paying job in order to access these luxuries this early in his adulthood. But in his case, the very opposite was true. The closest he had ever come to a paid, office life involved mailing piles of job applications to potential employers, without replies. He was living back in his parents’ home, struggling to find work and striving to keep busy.

“It’s a lot like returning to childhood,” he said. “Except you’re not small, carefree or joyous.”

Perhaps the most immediate indicator of economic distress is not the devaluation of the American dollar, but rather the semesterly price of college tuition. Higher education costs have spiked between 1.5 and 2 times the inflation rate each year since 1980.

And as more students loan money to finance their tuition, fewer of them get jobs to help pay off those debts. Over one in three young adults between ages 18 and 29 is without work, the Pew Research Center announced two years ago. The amount of people under age 25 collecting unemployment nearly reached 20% in April. That is an all-time high, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Employment is no quick fix for college grads needing a boost. Not even the young adults who defy the stereotype — of video game wizards eating ice cream from the carton — are immune to money woes. Those lucky enough to get hired straight from school face decreased entry-level salaries. The average employed 2010 graduate made just below $48,000 within a year of finishing college, almost a 2% cut from the year prior, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

But despite financial obstacles, buoyancy remains. About 80%, according to a Pew poll released in February, remain content with their domestic arrangements. And about just as many feel optimistic about their economic futures.

“If there’s supposed to be a stigma attached to living with Mom and Dad during one’s late twenties or early thirties, today’s ‘boomerang generation’ didn’t get that memo,” the Pew report stated.

Friendship might be to blame; today’s parents often share tastes with their children. It’s not unusual for parents and children to listen to the same music, watch the same films and television programs and wear similar clothing. Because generations now bond with more universal talking points, the dynamic can become more horizontal, not unlike one between roommates.

Such a change might seem far-fetched. Most parents spend decades watching over the family totem pole, kissing cuts and scrapes, purchasing food and chauffeuring between amateur sporting events. But discussing household responsibilities eases that transition into mutual adulthood.

“We all want to feel needed,” said Christine Carter, a sociologist at the University of California – Berkeley, and author of Raising Happiness. “Keep someone in charge of the groceries, the dishes and the laundry. A defined purpose keeps the home a happy one.”

While Weinberg agreed to assist with duties around his parents’ house, he also scheduled time for self-improvement, beginning with a few weeks spent devising outrageous get-rich-quick schemes. His idea for the NemAssist “speed-hating” service was unsuccessful. And plans for iMe, his social networking parody site in which self-involved users could only befriend oneself, were similarly disastrous.

But his plans soon became more practical. He began starting mornings by working on his sitcom pilot. During afternoons, he filed job applications and resumes. His parents work during the day, but he still cites them as influences in his career quest.

“It’s not like living with a college roommate who comes home in a drunken stupor at three in the morning and pees in your garbage can,” he wrote in an email. “My parents are probably the most lovely, civilized roommates I will ever have.”

Weinberg eventually found work at a digital media consulting firm and moved out of his childhood home. And while moving back in with his parents gave him a self-proclaimed safety net, he added that graduates must continue searching for forms of autonomy.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of living with your parents after college. But the problem here is indicative of the fact that we don’t have jobs, or at least we don’t have the sort of jobs that allow you to pay rent. It’s not in our best interest to get used to that.”