Last month, a U.S. Census report confirmed something many millennials like me know all too well: As of 2015, one-third of 18 to 34 year olds still lived at home—beating out all other living arrangements, including co-habitating with a partner or living alone, for the first time.
Older generations like to attribute this to laziness or entitlement, saying we lack ambition or are coddled by our parents—but that’s a clouded argument. There are some lazy kids in every generation, but a third of us? Sorry, but no.
As a millennial who’s in this category, I’m setting the record straight on the real reasons we’re still living at home.
Borrowers who graduated in 2016 owed more than $37,000 in student loans—and that’s just the average. I graduated with more than $60,000 in student debt, which translated into monthly payments of $611. Plus, because more than half my loans were taken out before or during the recession (before interest rates came down), I’m paying interest rates as high as 8 percent—on federal loans! That’s a huge burden when you’re just starting out.
In 2014, 51 percent of new college grads were working jobs that don’t require a degree. (Think: the stereotypical English-major-as-Barista.) This is the problem that I, along with my peers, have been facing: We graduated into one of the worst job markets in recent history.
The lack of adequate jobs translates into underemployment, which leads to two problems: Lost wages and gaps in employment history, both of which impact earning potential for the rest of our careers. In fact, according to the Census report, 41 percent of men between the ages of 25 and 34 today earn less than $30,000, compared to 25 percent in 1975.
A one-bedroom apartment rents for about $1,234—a high cost when you’re struggling to find work and pay down debt. (And this doesn’t even include utilities.) If you’re earning $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage, you’d have to work 170 hours a month just to afford the average apartment. Add in a $300 student loan payment, and it jumps to 211 hours worked in one month—just to live on your own and pay one debt bill. (And that’s pre-tax!)
The recession may have hit us hard, but it didn’t leave our parents unscathed: Millions lost their jobs and had a hard time finding work, too. Many of them (like my father) had to dip into their retirement savings at the worst possible moment—when the market was at its lowest—just to survive until they found work again, and now they need to make do with lower wages.
Despite living at home, nearly 20 percent of us are currently helping out our parents financially, spending more than $18,000 a year on average to do so. I haven’t spent nearly that much, but I have covered some bills my parents couldn’t—from credit cards to prescriptions and car repairs. I don’t say this begrudgingly, because I love my parents, but their financial decisions do have consequences for my own personal plans and goals.
We may be getting squeezed from all sides now, but I don’t think it’ll always be this way. The job market’s improving, wages are finally moving in the right direction (albeit slowly) and we’re still in the midst of a long-running bull market. And with decades left till retirement for even the oldest millennials, we’ve still got time to make up for all this lost ground.