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Recession hitting young men hardest: 1 in 5 now back at home

Quinn Fitzpatrick was his final semester as film student ColumbiCollege when serious car accident sidelined him last fall. He moved

Quinn Fitzpatrick was in his final semester as a film student at Columbia College when a serious car accident sidelined him last fall. He moved back home, and unable to afford his own place, he is now living with parents, Kevin & Laura Fitzpatrick. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 21, 2011 8:05AM

Michael Gaynor, 25, completed his bachelor’s degree and certification to teach elementary and high-school physical education in May 2009, then set out during a recession to find that dream job.

Over the next two years, the quest would take him from substitute teaching and respite care work in Iowa, back to his parents’ home in Skokie; to Florida, where he waited tables, then back to Skokie; to Colorado as a substitute teacher, coach and camp counselor, then, back to Skokie.

“My moves back home were always transitional. They allowed me to save up money, not having to pay rent and utilities,” says Gaynor, who got a new job and moved out from his parents again last week.

A U.S. Census Bureau analysis earlier this month found that nearly one of every five young men in their mid-20s through mid-30s are either moving back home with their parents — or never left.

The report, America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2011, found 19 percent of American men age 25 to 34 living in their parents’ homes — the highest level since 1960.

Only 10 percent of women in that age group were living at home with parents.

“If you had said 20 to 25, it wouldn’t have surprised me, but 34?” Gaynor’s mother, Alison, said. “Our situation was different. It was never open-ended, so we always enjoyed having him back home.”

This staggering statistic is fueled by the economic downturn that has hit young men harder than any other demographic group, according to economists.

In the Census Bureau’s 2010 American Community Survey, males age 25 to 34 faced an unemployment rate of 12 percent, vs. a 9.2 percent national rate. Males age 20 to 24 faced a 19 percent rate. For women age 25 to 34, unemployment stood at 10 percent; women age 20 to 24, 15 percent.

“We’re not in a ‘mancession,’ It’s linked to where we’ve had the job losses, which was in largely male-dominated fields, like construction,” says Mesirow Financial’s chief economist, Diane Swonk.

“High-school grads and non-high-school grads are hardest hit. They don’t qualify for the few jobs we’re generating. One of the things that’s kept them out of poverty is they are moving back home. But in doing so, they’re adding financial stress to families already stressed,” Swonk says.

Families like the Browns, of Gary, Ind.

Fredrick Brown, 24, was attending Eastern Michigan University when money ran out his senior year and he was forced to move back home in suburban Detroit, where both parents had been laid off for a year.

Brown’s father found work in the Gary area, and the family moved to Gary in August. Brown landed a job at a publishing company only to be laid off two months later. He’s started his own Web business,, and fully anticipates living at home beyond his next birthday, in May.

“I’ve read 23 or 24 is the new 18, because of the way we’ve been raised. My generation isn’t willing to settle, which is probably why a lot of us are still unemployed,” he says, laughing.

“But living at home is just cost-efficient right now. And my support system is there.”

The statistics don’t surprise Brown’s mother, Judy.

“I would have thought it was higher,” she says. “Every parent I know is dealing with this. We’re spending all this money for college, and they can’t even find a job. My friends whose children are on their own still help them because they’re underemployed. They joke they’d rather help them keep the apartment than come home.”

The poverty rate among 25- to 34-year-olds living with their parents stands at about 8.4 percent. If determined by their own income, the Census Bureau notes, that level would be 45.3 percent.

Unemployment among college graduates is significantly lower than for their non-degreed peers — a 5 percent rate in the Census survey, vs. 11.8 percent for high-school grads, and 16.5 percent for those with no high school diploma. But college grads are not escaping the “boomerang” trend.

Evanston native Edward Tillman, 35, had moved through lucrative marketing positions at Coca-Cola, FedEx, then W.W. Grainger — with short gaps between jobs — before he was laid off in January 2009.

After being unemployed for two years, the 2000 Columbia College grad moved back to his mother’s home at age 34.

“I was living off my savings, doing little gigs in between. I was living with my girlfriend and we broke up,” he says. “The financial burden was overwhelming. It’s a hard thing to go through at my age, to lose your freedom and your lifestyle, but it’s best for now, until I’m back on my feet.”

In 1960, 10.9 percent of men age 25 to 34 lived with their parents. That number remained virtually unchanged through the 1980 census, then crept steadily upward. In 1960, 7.4 percent of women that age lived with their parents, and in 50 years, that number has increased much more slowly.

Women’s lower numbers can be traced to their historically younger marriage age and their higher numbers among college graduates, said Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“What’s changed in the last 40 years is there’s been a much smaller gap between children and parents in their social values, and a move to a more Democratic form of child rearing,” she says. “It’s made it easier for adult children and parents to regard each other as friends, and an easier choice for young people to move back home when they’re between jobs or in economic difficulty.”

In his senior year at Columbia College, a car accident left Quinn Fitzpatrick, 24, of Lombard, hospitalized for three months. Facing a pile of bills, he moved back home last year to look for a job.

“But what I had been finding mostly were labor jobs averaging $10 an hour, which makes it really difficult to pay off your college debt, let alone put down a security deposit,” Fitzpatrick says.

Last week, he landed a job with Nonstop Locksmith, 2622 W. Diversey, and feels lucky to have gotten it because his boss received 300 applications for the one opening within 24 hours.

Fitzpatrick’s father, Kevin, jokes: “It’s scary that the U.S. Census is telling me Quinn’s going to be occupying Kevin’s house for another decade. I hope he runs away before then.”

Turning serious, he adds, “He’s enjoyable to have around. He’s not really a failure to launch guy. I think he’d rather be anywhere else than living at home, but has to be here until he can subsidize himself.”

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