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Why the pandemic is forcing millennials to move back home with their parents

The pandemic has accelerated a change in housing in the U.S. that began well before the spread of COVID-19. Millennials, adults between the ages of 24 and 39, continue to move back home with their parents in significant numbers. For some it's by choice, but for many it's a necessity. Special correspondent Catherine Rampell, who is a columnist for The Washington Post, has the story.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The pandemic has accelerated a change in housing in this country that began well before COVID-19 spread.

    Millennials, adults between the ages of 24 and 39, continue to move back home with their parents in significant numbers. For some, it's by choice. But, for many, it's a matter of necessity.

    Special correspondent Catherine Rampell, who is a columnist for The Washington Post, has our report.

  • Nikki Glaser:

    I was an ugly child. People would tell my mom that my sister should be a model like right in front of me.

    And then I would emerge from behind my mom's legs, like Nosferatu: "What should I be?"

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Catherine Rampell:

    At the start of 2020, comedian Nikki Glaser was riding high, a racy Netflix special, national tour, TV shows in development. Then you-know-what happened.

  • Nikki Glaser:

    Everything started shutting down. And I was like, I will just go back to Saint Louis for a week or so, you know?

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Seven months later…

  • Nikki Glaser:

    I'm a 36-year-old woman who is living with her parents, and there's no end in sight.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Little did Nikki Glaser know back in March that she'd be a poster child for her generation's response to the pandemic, young adults moving back home with their parents.

  • Richard Fry:

    This is the highest it's ever been, stretching back to 1900 in the historical record.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Economist Richard Fry just co-wrote a study showing that a majority of young adults are now living with their parents, though the share had been rising for a while.

  • Nikki Glaser:

    Many of us expected that it was going to peak and begin to decline after the Great Recession. That did not occur. It continued to rise. And now it has sharply accelerated again in the space of, you know, five months.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Millions of millennials have moved back home.

    Many, like Eric Rivera, lost their jobs, his in public relations.

  • Eric Rivera:

    I got laid off kind of the weekend before shelter in place happened.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Goodbye, pricey Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Hello, rent-free Hamilton Township, New Jersey.

  • Eric Rivera:

    Yes, I'm back in my childhood bedroom. It's no longer lime green, so I'm very happy about that.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Others, like Whitney Conkling, hoped to save money on not just rent, but child care. She, husband Scott Oldebeken and baby Oliver are back home with her folks in Houston.

  • Whitney Conkling:

    They were supposed to send their last child off to college and enjoy the empty nesting life. But, yes, they have inherited three more of us.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Management consultant Molly Le, working from home, fled the then epicenter of the pandemic for somewhere with room to roam:, Her parents' house in North Carolina.

  • Molly Le:

    It's way better than my New York shoe box apartment.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Jon Benitez, working remotely for a nonprofit, moved back to his childhood home in the quintessential suburb, Levittown, New York, partly to help his parents.

  • Jon Benitez:

    Because of the economy, my parents haven't been working. I was helping with the groceries, helping with any expenditures the family had.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    And some just had more personal reasons.

  • Nikki Glaser:

    There's something really about this time that makes you want to be with people you love and who love you unconditionally. And, for me, that's just my parents.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    But even this big star had some financial motives for heading home.

  • Nikki Glaser:

    There's been a lot of things that have just stopped in their tracks and that got canceled.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Meanwhile…

  • Nikki Glaser:

    I had just signed a lease March 1 for an apartment in New York. I have paid full rent for a really expensive place that I never even stepped foot in even once for this whole year.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Marcellus Adams never even got a chance to sign his lease. Except for college, he's lived with his parents his whole life.

  • Marcellus Adams:

    I did not want to leave and then come back and be like, hey, well, I'm back.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    But, recently, he'd been saving up, working two jobs:, one in a hospital emergency room, the other as an auto mechanic. He found a possible roommate, and had been planning to move out in the spring.

    Then, his hospital hours were cut, and his mechanic job was eliminated altogether. At 29, he's back at square one.

  • Marcellus Adams:

    It's disappointing. There's literally no other words that I can place on that. It's disappointing.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Millennials have been unusually unlucky. Burdened by student loan debt, they have also been hit by two major recessions within the first decade of their careers.

  • Nela Richardson:

    Those formative years of entering the jobs market really set the trajectory for not only your career, but your wealth and income over time.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Economist Nela Richardson.

  • Nela Richardson:

    And this is key here, because homeownership typically is a way of growing wealth as an adult. So, the longer you delay that that entry into homeownership, the less time you have to build that wealth over time.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    And the longer millennials wait to move out of their parents' homes, period, the bigger the drag on the economy. Fewer households being formed means less spending on everything housing-related.

  • Nela Richardson:

    Housing, if you add in all those housing services and buying appliances or renovating, it's about 15 to 18 percent of the economy. Five, 10 years out, if we still have people who lost that initial step into adulthood, this is a missing part of the economy that could be felt for years.

  • Erica Rivera:

    I turned 30 while we were still in shelter in place. So, in my mind, in this place in my life, I wanted to live on my own. I wanted to have really nice furniture that's not from Ikea. I wanted to have kind of a senior role in my career.

    That kind of was just turned upside down. And then, moving home, it's like I feel like I took a couple of steps back.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    These setbacks are part of the reason why millennials are behind on non-economic milestones too, like marriage.

  • Richard Fry:

    In terms of sort of the share of 23-to-38-year-olds that are married, among the millennial generation, about 44 percent. Gen X back in 2003, it was about 53 percent.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Understandably, perhaps. It's hard to date when you're living with mom and dad.

  • Marcellus Adams:

    Some women are definitely understanding, and because they are going through something similar. And then I believe there's the other side of the coin, oh, you live with your parents? It's like, hmm, I don't know if I like you that much, you know?

  • Catherine Rampell:

    And do your parents know about the boyfriend?

  • MOLLY LE:

    No.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Catherine Rampell:

    OK.

    During a pandemic, of course, there are other risks to dating, like exposing your parents to illness.

  • Nikki Glaser:

    A guy asked me on a date or like to some party. And I texted him: I'm sorry. I can't go. My mom won't let me.

    And the last time that I ever told a boy, I'm sorry, I can't, my mom won't let me — I have never done that. I never texted that, because texting didn't exist the last time that that was an answer to anyone. I — you know, like, landlines did.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Other than contagion risk, how do parents feel about having their adult kids back? Some are thrilled.

  • Man:

    Having them here is fun for us. We enjoy it.

  • Woman:

    Yes, we enjoy it, honestly.

  • Jon Benitez:

    My mother is over the moon, having all three of us here.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Yes, both his brothers are living at home too.

  • Mauricio Benitez:

    I'm 33.

  • Jon Benitez:

    I'm 30.

  • Man:

    I'm 26.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Santiago was laid off from a movie theater, Mauricio furloughed from his job as a chef. It's a full house.

  • Mauricio Benitez:

    They love it. They wish it could stay like this. But, unfortunately, we are all grown men.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Molly Le's parents even bought a new bigger house in May to entice her to stick around.

  • Nam Le:

    I wish this is forever.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    But it's not all idyllic.

  • Whitney Conkling:

    We're in an election year, and we don't necessarily see eye to eye.

  • Man:

    We just don't talk about it.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Catherine Rampell:

    At the Glasers, the fights are less about politics, more about personal hygiene.

  • Nikki Glaser:

    I still have a messy room. So I Venmo my mom sometimes to just clean my room.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Really?

  • Nikki Glaser:

    Yes, I'm living here for free. I will Venmo you, and she gets so excited.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    Their time together may be winding down, at least according to her father, E.J.

  • E.J. Glaser:

    So I think you're going to get a place in the next month or so, from what Nikki's been saying.

  • Nikki Glaser:

    Well, I just found that out, but — no. That's what I have been talking about. I think that they need to, like, have their space.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    But she's still getting used to the idea.

  • Nikki Glaser:

    I think they call it failure to launch, classic millennial — like, millennial traits.

  • Catherine Rampell:

    She takes comfort in knowing she's not alone.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Catherine Rampell.

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