Moving home

ANNMARIE ELY

Theo Harkness put on his
graduation gown, listened to
the inspirational speaker and
walked toward the podium to
receive his degree at East
Stroudsburg’s graduation ceremony
in May of 2009. Today,
at 24, with a bachelor’s degree
in health, after an eight-hour
work day he walks into his
mom and dad’s three-bedroom
house, up to his childhood bedroom,
where he still lives.
According to a 2009 population
by the Pew Research
Center, 10 percent of adults
between the ages of 18 and 34
moved back in with their parents
due to the recession.
According to a population
survey, taken by the Census in
2009, over 15 million 18 to 24-
year-olds live at home.
Out of the 25 to 34-year-old
crowd, more than 51 million
are living at home. That’s 15.6
percent of males and 9.9 percent
of females.
The number has jumped
since 2006 by an additional
338,000 males and 257,000
females.
These people are highly educated,
capable young adults
who for various reasons – the
sluggish economy, a lackluster
job market, student loan debt –
have not been able to achieve
independence.
Max Probst, who teaches
sociology at Bucks, says one
factor is the fact that college
grads are getting married later.
Probst says on average,
women are waiting until 25
and men are waiting until
about 27 to get married. With
one income affording rent is
twice as difficult.
“They want to start their
careers before they get married,”
said Probst. “They want
to go to school and get that
degree.”
The job market is another
factor. As bachelor’s degrees
become more common they go
down in value.
“The market is not open to
all of those jobs,” said Probst
who has college-educated
friends who are working in
warehouses.
Probst thinks there needs to
be more jobs that students can
qualify for right out of high
school.
“We have outsourcing, setting
up factories to make
sneakers at 10 cents a pair,”
said Probst. “We are losing a
lot of those jobs; now a college
education is like a high school
diploma.”
Harkness has a substantial
resume. In college he worked
as an Emergency Medical
Technician, and he volunteers
as a firefighter. He’s been a
lifeguard and he has years of
experience teaching kids as
both a camp counselor and
snowboard instructor.
He had a job lined up when
he graduated. He works as a
Donor Care specialist in a call
center. After someone donates
blood, if they have a bruise or
another concern, Harkness
takes their call.
Harkness makes about
$24,000 a year after taxes, but
like a lot of students he got a
complimentary pile of debt
with his diploma.
Harkness owes about
$10,000 in student loans; that
part he does not regret.
The credit cards are a different
story. He has about $2,800
left in credit card debt. He
racked up most of it trying to
win back an ex-girlfriend.
“A lot of it was from taking
her out for food, going to the
mall and buying clothing and
shoes for her,” said Harkness.
“It worked, but it cost me.
Once the money ran out so did
she,” said Harkness. “So, it
wasn’t really worth it.”
Harkness is not alone. “I ask
how many students have credit
cards in the beginning of the
semester and a lot of hands go
up,” said Probst. “I imagine
that adds to the financial burden.”
Harkness’ life is not what he
thought it would be at this
point.
“Originally I thought I’d
look for an apartment, move
home for a few months and
move out after graduation,” he
said. “That fell apart.”
Harkness had a job lined up
before he graduated. He was
lucky.
A call center found his
resume online and contacted
him for an interview, which he
nailed. He learned how to
answer caller’s questions and
passed his tests at work.
If you didn’t pass you got
fired. Still he wasn’t able to
make enough to support himself.
His hours were hectic and
kept changing, and paychecks
were bouncing up and down.
“I went from full-time, being
dropped to part-time, and now
finally back to full-time
again,” he said.
Harkness is back up to fulltime
and is dreaming of independence
again. He has a small
dog that he worries about leaving
in an apartment by itself.
Right now, the dog is his reason
for staying with mom and
dad.
“I still need to move out,”
said Harkness.
Harkness sees his dad every
morning, and sometimes at
night, but the family does not
eat dinner together often, or do
much together besides run into
each other at the house.
Still, living at home can be
difficult. Roles can get a little
frustrating for both the parent
and adult child.
“Having your parents around
thinking you are 13 and trying
to tell you what to do gets old,”
said Harkness.
According to Probst, adult
children impact the family
structure. Married couples that
experienced having an “empty
nest” now have to adjust to
having their child live with
them again.
This can cause strain on relationships.
On the other hand, if
their relationship to their child
is very positive, it could be a
good thing.
“Children can provide financial
and emotional support,”
said Probst.
Harkness’ parents like to
know where he is when he is
going out, which he says is
“not such a bad thing.” At
least, he adds, “I don’t have a
curfew.”
Falling into old roles is nothing
new. Tom Ely, a Vietnam
vet, remembers his mother
telling him “Tom, I don’t care
how late that girl can stay out,
you have to be home by 11
p.m.” This was after he
returned from fighting in a war.
Harkness’ parents ask him to
do chores.
“Every once and a while
they’ll ask me to do stuff like
take out the trash,” said
Harknesss. “I bring the mail in
every day, little things around
the house. Clean my bathroom.”
The living situation hasn’t
made dating a picnic.
Harkness, who is the child of a
minister, cannot bring a girl
home unless he has been dating
her for a while, and even
then she cannot stay the night.
“So, it would be like ‘hey
meet the parents’ and ‘I have to
bring you back home because I
live with mine,” said Harkness,
who sometimes felt judged
when he told women.
“I felt like they were always
like, ‘that sucks,'” said
Harkness.
Harkness tried “holding off”
until a girl asked where he
lived. That usually took a week
or two.
Some, who had friends in the
same position, understood.
After realizing his stay at
home would be a little more
permanent than he originally
thought, Harkness learned to
adapt.
He tries to stick to himself in
his room. He finds himself
cleaning a lot less.
“I used to vacuum, and do
more dishes when I lived on
my own,” said Harkness.
For the most part the graduate
and his parents have adjusted
to each other.
His dad got laid off so he
sees him more; his mom, a
minister, is usually busy running
a church.
His parents are not pushing
him out the door.
“They actually don’t want
me to move out,” said
Harkness. “They don’t think
I’m financially stable enough.”
His mother moved home for
a few years after college, so
she understands. She is doing
what her parents did for her.
“Her mom charged her rent
and put it in a savings account
so that she would have money
to put towards a down payment
on a house,” said Harkness.
Harkness’mom started doing
that for him, but has stopped so
that he can focus on whittling
down his student loan and
credit card debt.
Despite his parent’s nervousness
Harkness is hoping to
move in with friends within the
next few months.
He won’t be moving to
China. The relationship
between the graduate and his
parents has remained pretty
happy.
“I’ll live close to them, not
too far away, but definitely not
with them,” he says.
This is a photo of what a happy grad should look like
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