- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2002

Jennifer Greenwell, 21, will know the everyday drill when she moves back home in Springfield this month, sheepskin in hand. In the past four years, the college graduate has been trekking back home during breaks from West Virginia University in Morgantown, where she earned a degree in psychology.

She will clean the bathroom she shares with her 17-year-old brother, Jeff. She will take her turn at the dishes, help cook meals for the family and perform other chores around the house.

She probably will ask her parents, Ron and Sue Greenwell, for money, she says, "but that doesn't mean I'm going to get it."

What about Miss Greenwell's future?

"Oh, the infamous question," she says. "I have absolutely no idea. I'm thinking I might go back to school and get a teaching certificate for elementary education. I'd do that while living at home."

For Miss Greenwell and a host of her peers, living at home while contemplating life's next step is a logical choice. The burgeoning price tag of higher education has left many graduating students with large debts; a sluggish economy has allowed them fewer choices and lower salaries.

Mom and dad often are willing to supply room, board and a built-in support system, giving their ex-students the chance to bank some cash while contemplating the next move.

"There's no shame in coming home now," says Simona Hill, an assistant professor of sociology at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa. "I ask students, 'What are you going to do?' They tell me they're just going to take a semester off and work, they're going home, and their parents accept that."

The online career resource MonsterTRAK has documented a rising trend in young adults moving home after graduation. A recent online poll conducted by the company says 63 percent of college students plan to live at home with their parents after graduation this year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 2.3 million college graduates ages 20-24 for its June "Current Population Survey." About 1.8 million of them are employed. Neither of these numbers differ significantly from the populations counted for the June 2001 study.

What does stand out, though, is the number of people who did not enter the work force. In June 2001, about 400,000 new graduates did not join the work force. In June 2002, 20 percent more graduates 500,000 were without a job.

"We just don't know why these numbers are different," says Mary Bowler, a staff economist at BLS. "Some could just be a quirk with the timing of our survey among the college graduations. Some people, if they perceive the job market as tough, may look at alternatives such as just going on to pursue a higher degree or just be discouraged from starting a job search at all. Anecdotally, some may have found unpaid internships as the best bet."

Changing places

Beth Hamilton, a high-school friend of Jennifer Greenwell's, also is taking a breather at home while planning her future. Miss Hamilton, 22, graduated in the spring from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., with a degree in health science.

She moved home right after graduation. Home is in Springfield, a four-bedroom house she shares with her parents Patti Hamilton, a children's-store manager, and David Hamilton, a procurement manager at a law firm. Her brother David, 12, and sister Allyson, 20, home from Virginia Tech for the summer, complete the family.

"My parents said I could come home, so I did, since I didn't have a place to live or anything," Miss Hamilton says. "It's convenient."

She has landed a job as a medical assistant in an Arlington orthopedic clinic and will save money to attend graduate school, a plan supported by her parents. Until then, says Miss Hamilton, she enjoys the same freedoms afforded her when she was a college student. She has the same chores she would normally have, and "I don't have a curfew, but I always tell them where I'm going so they don't worry."

Miss Hamilton's situation mirrors what Ms. Hill terms a "changing dynamic in family systems." Today's households are not limited to parents and children but sometimes contain grandparents, adult children and their children, as well.

"Back in the '60s and '70s, this was happening in minority families quite readily," she says. "Now that you go 30 or 40 years forward, we see this pattern of family arrangement is becoming common. … What draws our attention in 2002 is that it's happening in white, middle-class families. It's more an adaptation to the economic realities of life, which are school debt, how to pay for expenses on your own as an adult. Can you finance a car, pay your rent, pay for car insurance? This can be quite burdensome for students who are just graduating. And the more education and skills required of students, that will require a greater commitment from families."

Ron Greenwell is deeply committed to his daughter.

"I love my daughter as only a father could love a daughter," says Mr. Greenwell, an information technologist. "She's everything you could ask for in a daughter. She's always been a little bit ahead of her peers in common sense, and her maturity level is just great, as far as I can tell. I'm looking forward to having her home, and I'm looking forward to her leaving. I'm ready for the empty-nest syndrome. I want to find out if it's as bad as I hear. I'd like to experience it."

He says that having her around will be nice a year of it, maybe, but that more than that would be "pushing the envelope about how much we could take. All parents kind of hope that as [their children] graduate, the resumes are going out and someone offers them a job, and they go off happily to life. We were hoping Jennifer would be getting the job she wanted but secretly knowing she'd be coming home. With the right degrees, maybe that happens. Like we told her, you've got a liberal arts degree? Do you want fries with that? You're going to have to do something else."

He and his wife, an office manager, have discussed what Mr. Greenwell calls "growing-up things" with Miss Greenwell, such as car and health insurance.

"She has to get those herself," he says. "What will you do about things like that? Being a grown-up is not as easy and fun as everyone thinks it is. I think both Sue and I have told her that you're welcome to come home for a while, but don't expect us to pay for your schooling. We've told her from the get-go we'll pay for four years of school, and that's what we did. The well is empty. We'll help her now that's what parents do for children but we're not paying for it."

Rolling with the punches

Jen Gross had a Plan A: Graduate from American University, journalism degree in hand, land a writing job (or a long-term, paid internship) and begin her life.

But she is on Plan B now, talking on a cell phone during her lunch hour from her summer internship in her hometown of Westlake, a Cleveland suburb. In May, just after graduation, she moved back home to live with her mother, Judy Gross, a speech pathologist; father Joe Gross, the chief executive officer of a small manufacturing company; and brother Brian, 19, a college student.

"You know the field of journalism is pretty tough," Miss Gross, 22, says. "And it's a tight market. I got completely rejected from every internship I applied for they said they'd gotten a record number of applicants. I talked to my parents, and they were willing to let me come live back home. Obviously, it's easier for me. I can save up what I'm making, because I don't have to pay rent. It just kind of seemed like the smartest thing to do."

Her mother says they could see it coming.

"Not that it was the original intent of hers. … But she's also a little lady who likes to make sure she has a little money and savings," Mrs. Gross says. "She was definitely not doing that in Washington. She saw that all the money was going out for rent and other things. She thought, 'I can always go back out again. If I go to the Midwest, it's going to be a little cheaper.'"

Mrs. Gross says she knows her daughter does not plan to live with the family for a long time, but "it all depends on the financial situation. She really wants to do a lot of this on her own. She's finding out how costly things are. She's paying attention to sales and clipping coupons, going to the movies on Tuesday nights because it's cheaper."

At this point, Miss Gross' future still is a bit uncharted.

"That's a good question," she says. "I love anything to do with writing. I'm considering applying to law school. I would pay for that. I won't move out initially, but I don't see myself staying there that long. My parents are fun, but I enjoy my independence."


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