Failure to Launch: Examining the Plight of Millennial Men in Household Formation
By Richard Walls
While living with his mother and younger brother in a three-bedroom public housing unit, twenty-two-year-old Jamarrio Stephens failed to find work after graduating high school in 2013.
His mother soon became ill following complications from diabetes that robbed her eyesight and led to kidney failure.
With bills piling up and his mother requiring care, the weight of adulthood had already left Jamarrio with several doubts about what the future may hold for him.
He turned to his passion for music and began playing keyboard for local churches where he typically earns anywhere between $150-$400 for every service that he does.
Though he could still not afford to buy a car and relied on public transportation, he enjoyed doing what he loved.
This love would soon be overshadowed by disaster in 2015 when his family’s housing unit caught on fire and they lost most of their belongings.
Afterwards, they were forced to move into his grandmother’s house and he was soon looking for work again to ease the burden on his family.
Later that year, he found a job at a butcher shop where he continues to work along with his brother. Together, they have purchased a car.
However, Stephens has failed to get his own apartment, which has tempered his optimism.
“After everything that has happened, I have been very motivated to find ways to relieve the burden on my family. I love having my car and the next step will be to find housing for me and my brother. It has been really hard because the number of housing units is limited and we have been placed on a waiting list now with no signs of when there will be space available,” said Stephens.
Stories like Stephens’ have become more common in Savannah in recent years.
According to the 2016 American Community Survey, 55.9 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their household income on rent in Chatham County.
For individuals with limited income, like many young adults, paying high rent may not leave enough money for other expenses such as transportation or medical care.
This dynamic has been the source of a significant problem for Chatham County.
The results of a 2016 Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition Armstrong State University Survey revealed that 78 percent of residents reporting annual household incomes less than $50,000 spend more than 33 percent of their budgets on housing compared to 54% of those earning $50,000 and over.
These results also indicate a greater financial stress for African-Americans in Chatham County as 85 percent spend more than spend more than one-third of their budget on housing compared to 54 percent of Caucasians.
While 41percent of Chatham County residents are African-American, they share a median household income of just $34,930 compared to one of $59,402 for Caucasians as reported by the Census Bureau.
These developments serve as a major indication of why the homeownership rate alone, in the City of Savannah, is 44 percent against the national average of 63 percent.
As the director for the department of housing for the City of Savannah, Martin Fretty is well-aware of the challenges that exist for many Savannah residents, specifically young adults.
“Today’s young adults are faced with tough decisions in regards to housing. With the rise in things like student loan debt, it is more difficult immediately enter the housing market. I think more young people are staying at home because it is cheaper and it allows them to save money until they can really afford to go out on their own,” said Fretty.
Within the department of housing, there are several programs that assist low and moderate income households within Savannah. These programs include providing existing home owners with basic home repair assistance, facilitating single- and multi-family housing development for home buyers and encouraging the retention and creation of sustainable affordable housing.
Through these programs, Fretty has worked to address a growing trend that continues to have lasting effects nationwide.
What’s the Problem?
Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that, in 2014, the nation’s 18-to-34-year-olds were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner establishing their own households for the first time in more than 130 years.
As the trend has continued today, the decision to delay the pursuit of independent living may have important consequences for the nation’s housing market recovery.
Following its longest recession since the Great Depression, in 2007, the United States economy has experienced a slow recovery process that has lingered for nearly a decade.
While there have been improvements in certain areas, today’s young adults have still experienced negative shifts in areas such as marriage, education, and employment that can be linked to the last recession.
The impact of this recovery has had an especially significant effect on the population of millennial males.
With homeownership rates of those under 35 at a 20-year low as of 2016, according to the Pew Research Center, many more may be looking to rent.
However, as rents rise faster than wages, the rental housing market may also be keeping millennials from moving out of their parent’s homes.
For many, this nontraditional living arrangement has served as a buffer between sustainability and independence.
Families and Living Arrangements
Roger Scott is a 22-year-old who lives comfortably in a four-bedroom house with his family. In addition to his parents, he also shares living space with his two younger brothers.
His room serves as an homage for his love of basketball, featuring posters of his favorite players and teams plastered on the walls.
This love for sports is shared by the entire family as weekends are filled with competitive games against his brothers and playful ones against his father.
During football season, the entire family regularly flies to see the Dallas Cowboys play.
Aside from the passion for sports, his father’s success as the owner of a trucking company has continued to inspire Scott to achieve his own.
However, this motivation has often been affected by the difficulties of managing young adulthood.
“Finding the kind of work I want has been hard. I didn’t think going to college would be worth it. I wanted to make money right away but I was surprised by how tough that turned out to be. The support that I get from my family really helped me to keep going and find out what I needed to change about my plan. Staying at home has given me the chance to save money and make better plans for the future,” says Scott.
After graduating from high school, Roger decided not to attend college so he could make money immediately and save enough to start his own business. He was unable to find full-time work and began working at a carwash where he made minimum wage.
It was during this time that he discovered how challenging it would be to achieve his goals. He now works full-time for a refrigeration company and takes classes at Savannah Technical College for welding.
While he still lives at home, his family continues to support his decision.
“We want him to stay with us until he feels ready to be on his own financially. We think that it’s important that we continue to support him as he continues to gain the confidence that he needs to achieve his goals. He is making great progress and I know he will continue to work hard,” said his mother Sonya Scott.
This dependence on family is not uncommon for today’s young adults and it has not had much impact on the relationship between parents and children.
According to an analysis of social and demographic trends, the sharing of family finances provides a mutual benefit for both parents and their children.
48 percent of 25-34 year-olds- who lived with their parents in 2012 reported that they paid rent to their parents and 89% say they helped with household expenses.
As for the effect on the family dynamics, about a quarter (25 percent) say the living arrangement has been bad for their relationship with their parents, while a quarter (24 percent) say it’s been good and nearly half (48 percent) say it hasn’t made a difference.
While the relationship with family members largely remained unchanged, these living arrangements did provide significant indication of potential outlook.
Nearly 78 percent of these 25-34-year-olds said that they didn’t currently have enough money to lead the kind of life they want compared with 55 percent of their same-aged peers who aren’t living with their parents.
Large majorities of both groups (77 percent versus 90 percent) said that they either had enough money then to lead the kind of life they want or expect they would in the future.
While this living situation has become even more widespread in the last five years, the impact of family relations has also remained integral to the pursuit of independent living.
However, this stable family dynamic is often dictated by having stable a financial background that has become less common in Savannah.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the number of Savannah’s population living under the poverty level was almost 19. 3 percent in 2016.
As a marriage and family therapist at Savannah Counseling Services, Steve Weinman has seen firsthand how families can be affected by financial burdens.
Through his family sessions, Weinman has sought to strengthen the family connections that can prove to be vital in the development of a child into a successful human being as they reach adulthood.
“Family structure is a major key to feeling stable. A strong relationship with family can provide someone with the confidence necessary to face potential challenges. This can be especially important for young adults as they face the uncertainties of adulthood for the first time”, Weinman says.
The increase in this living arrangement has led to a significant decrease in traditional living arrangements for young adults.
Since graduating from high school in 2012, Patrick Thompson has had several jobs in the retail industry.
While living with his grandparents, he works part-time as a cashier at Walmart where he makes under $20,000 annually.
After not attending college, he has had difficulty building his own income and finding meaningful work.
“I’m 25 now and I want to begin starting a family. Marriage is very important to me but I don’t know when I will ever be able to settle down with anyone. It’s been really hard to make any progress towards renting or buying a house. Without my own place, it will hard to start my own family”, said Thompson.
This is desire is one of the many growing concerns for young men.
According to an analysis of social forces, marriage has historically had the lowest probability of a return home because it represents a commitment to a lifelong adult role.
An analysis of social trends conducted by the Journal of Psychology showed Americans now marry later. The median age of first marriage has risen by about five years since the 1970s for both genders.
Men now typically marry at 28 and women at 26. While conditions are similar for both genders, the issues related to household formation have an increased impact on men.
Poor job prospects may be making young men less desirable for marriage.
The constant shifts within the labor market have created challenges for young men.
According to data collected by the Monthly Labor Review, employed young men are much less likely to live at home than young men without a job, and employment among young men has fallen significantly in recent decades.
The share of young men with jobs peaked around 1960 at 84%. In 2014, only 71% of 18- to 34- year old men were employed.
Similarly with earnings, young men’s wages have been trending downward since 1970 and fell significantly from 2000 to 2010. As wages have fallen, the share of young men living in the home of their parents has risen.
After graduating from college in 2014 with a degree in Information Technology, De’von Fitts felt very confident about his career prospects.
However, after being hired, as an IT specialist, he became frustrated with the long hours and a stagnant salary that only barely covered the rent for his apartment in Atlanta.
“Once I started working in IT, I realized that it wasn’t what I expected in terms of living the kind of life that I wanted. I wasn’t happy and I was barely making ends meet. I don’t know if it will payoff but I am willing to take a chance to create a better and happier future for myself,” said Fitts.
Recently, he has moved back home in order to support a career shift as he trains to become a mortician which has presented these different challenges and uncertainties.
De’von’s situation is strong example of the complicated role that education has continued to have on the fortunes of young men.
The decline in independent living is not education-based.
According to the Pew Research Center, 86 percent of college-educated 25-to-34-year olds live independently of their families compared to 88 percent in 2010.
There is a two percent difference between people in the age group who have no education beyond high school.
According to the Pew Research Center, young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is the only demographic more likely to be married or cohabitating than living with their parents.
Educational attainment is an important factor in household formation as revealed by the Pew Research Center, young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree remain the only group more likely to be married or cohabiting than to be living at home.
By 2006, young adults who had not completed high school were more likely to live at home than with a partner.
Young adults who finished their education at high school were more likely to live in the home of their parents than with a partner in their own household by 2008.
As the founder and coordinator of Ready2Connect, Destiny Bradshaw has become very familiar with the impact that an education can have on someone’s life. With Ready2Connect, she works with adults who are seeking to improve their marketability through gaining education.
Destiny Bradshaw of Ready2Connect
“I have seen these workshops and classes have a huge impact on the participants’ lives. Once they are finished, you can quickly see the improvement in self-esteem and confidence. They begin to believe that they actually can achieve greater things,” said Bradshaw.
Destiny Bradshaw of Ready2Connect
They work towards obtaining their GEDs and pursuing higher education as well as receiving personal guidance on how to begin careers through the use of effective resumes and interviewing skills.
In addition to the potential of self-improvement, the pursuit of a college degree can also have an additional impact on today’s young adults.
Another factor that has contributed to the trend in staying at home is the rise in student loan debt as reported by the Journal of Financial Service Professionals.
From 2005 to 2015, outstanding student loan debt rose from $364 billion to $1.2 trillion, and the percentage of people aged 18 to 30 with a student load increased from 27% to 40%.
This expansion in student debt has coincided with a decrease in the number of people aged 18-30 holding a mortgage from 11% in 2005 to 7% in 2016.
Student debt repayment for young people is taking up 20% of income. This makes getting a home increasingly difficult because a mortgage can account for 30-45% of someone’s income.
This has created a serious dilemma for today’s young adults who must potentially decide to pursue an education while sacrificing a huge amount of financial flexibility.
Everett Salmon is a 25-year-old who lives with his mother in a two-bedroom apartment. He is an avid musician whose small bedroom features a drum set and trophies from different band performances.
Following high school, he attended college but would be forced to drop out in his junior year due to financial struggles. Since then, he has managed to find full time work but is overwhelmed by over $20,000 worth of debt that is the combination of student loans and credit card bills.
While he makes enough money to take care of most of the utilities, he has been unable to rent or buy his own home due to poor credit history.
This has often made him feel overwhelmed by the severity of his dilemma.
“The amount of debt that I have already is crazy to me. I don’t know how to handle it sometimes. It’s scary that I might have to deal with this for the rest of my life,” said Salmon.
As the director of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Savannah, Richard Reeves has encountered numerous young men like Salmon who have struggled to manage the burden of mounting debts.
During one-on-one sessions, Reeves and other counselors discuss options and goals with clients in order to provide specific plans targeted towards managing financial difficulties.
Through these sessions, he has noticed the impact that planning and financial education can have on someone’s ability to manage their debt.
“Anyone can increase their likelihood of success by improving their financial literacy. It is important to understand the proper ways to balance income and expenses in order to avoid unnecessary debt. Education is the first step towards erasing debt and relieving financial burden” says Reeves.
The nature of Salmon’s situation is one that is driven by the same mixture of factors that have continued to present challenges to Millennial men who are trying to enter the housing market.
The plight of millennial men in household formation is one that is defined by the reversal or rejection of tradition.
While the desire to achieve early independence and success still exists largely, the manner in which those goals are achieved for a growing number of adults is to stay with mom and dad for longer.