Please, I beg of you, stop calling us lazy. We are quietly burrowing our way out of the deep ruts the recession carved into our economy.
After living independently for the past 11 years, I didn’t imagine moving to my parents’ basement as part of my dream trajectory.
As a little girl writing page after page in my unicorn and rainbow adorned diary, I vowed that I would leave my hometown of Bismarck, North Dakota, to become a writer in New York City. Although I decided New York City was not for me, I left home to live in Fargo and Portland until I recently migrated back.
My story is only one of the 22 million stories of young adults like me who have temporarily moved back in with their parents. Before I delve into the details of my individual situation, I must zoom out and look at the overall picture, the proverbial loom of this Boomerang Generation phenomenon.
At the peak of the recession from 2011 to 2014, many publications reported on members of the Millennial Generation who returned home after living independently, dubbing us the “Boomerang Generation.” Some members from other generations painted some rather unflattering profiles of us as indicated by article titles such as “5 Steps to Survive Your Adult Child’s Return Home,” via the Huffington Post, “How to Stay Sane When Adult Children Move Back Home,” in Forbes Finance, “It’s Official, the Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave,” courtesy the New York Times Magazine, and “The Price You Pay When Adult Children Move Back Home,” thanks to Fox Business.
These articles implied that members of my generation are lazy, entitled, financial and emotional burdens to our parents, and acquired massive student loan debt because of frivolous degrees in the arts and humanities that critics state do not teach practical career skills that provide stability. They perpetuated the stigma about moving home, attributing this Boomerang trend to individual failures and character flaws, rather than examining the complex economic, cultural, and educational factors that contributed to this trend. The Pew Research Center extensively studied this phenomenon in 2012, citing declining employment, rising college enrollment, declining marriage rates, high student loan debt, and high rent.
Unfortunately these Pew study results still ring true four years later. The Boomerang Generation is not an “unfortunate but temporary blip,” as The New York Times Magazine stated. The Boomerang Generation is here to stay. Forbes recently reported that the Class of 2016 is the most indebted in history and that a college degree is no longer a guarantee of a good job.
I still see this economic trend playing out even in my home state of North Dakota, one of the only states that thrived during the recession. Many of my college friends work at jobs they are overqualified for in fields that are unrelated to their degrees. They are servers and bartenders to pay the bills while they search for the right full-time teaching job or to supplement their passion for art and music while they live in their parents’ basements. My classmates and acquaintances flocked to the oil patch of North Dakota in droves during the oil boom so they could make three or four times the salary they would make as police officers or social workers. When the oil boom started to bust, they returned home while they looked for permanent employment in poorly paid professions.
As a licensed social worker, I both understand and empathize with my peers who are making more money and paying off their bills by sweating it out in the service industry and oil fields, living with parents or friends. After all I am barely paid a living wage despite years of experience in the human service field, a license, good references, and college degrees. I worked hard and loved my job working with low-income people with HIV and AIDS in Portland, but I could not afford the climbing astronomical rent and high cost of living. I began looking at second jobs, but decided that additional work would add stress and take away time I could devote to writing, clearly not the answer to my financial conundrum.
“Do you think you’re just giving up on Portland by moving home?” several well-intentioned people asked me. At first I had to avert my gaze, I felt that middle-class, white societal stigma that moving in with your parents as an adult means you are weak and lazy. That moving home was getting trapped in the web of surrender. Surrender meant giving up, losing, and worst of all, failure. But upon returning and reflecting, I have discovered that surrender is not that simple, not that reductionist, not that black or white. Surrender is adapting and retracting my talons after clawing my way through navigating an unfamiliar, sometimes unwelcoming place while struggling with depression and panic attacks.
Surrender can be sweet and sour. First the sour: Saying goodbye to our beautiful apartment nestled in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Northeast Portland lined with colorful, artistic murals, coffee shops, restaurants, and events; to my clients, coworkers, and job; to my friends; hiking and adventuring through the gorgeous, lush landscape; and all the excitement of living in an artistically thriving city. I realized that the sour was part of letting go. That sometimes letting go takes more courage than holding on. It faded in the rearview and the sweet things crisply came into focus.
At first I was ashamed, but the truth is that this is where I need to be, nannying, working on freelance writing and my memoir. Many other cultures would not see moving home as a failure or a burden to my parents, rather they view it as a time of transition. I’m grateful for family and friends who are taking me under their wing while encouraging me. Right now the wings feel like a cocoon during a metamorphosis.
Many of us in the Boomerang Generation are undergoing metamorphosis. We are not all playing video games in our parents’ basements, glued to our smartphones, unwilling to break out a sweat, content to be complacent. So please, I beg of you, stop calling us lazy. We are quietly burrowing our way out of the deep ruts the recession carved into our economy.
Take a look around: We are nurses tenderly serving your parents in nursing homes and hospitals with less-than-desirable tasks, we are saving up for our first homes, we are serving your food and filling your drinks so you have an enjoyable night out, we are plotting how to launch our small businesses, we are going back to college for Master’s degrees or to finish our education. We are not grounded, we are determined more than ever to use our wings.
Tessa Torgeson is a social worker by day and aspiring writer, yogi, friend, and cat lady by night. She works and freezes her bones off in North Dakota.