This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 21, 2011 - Kitty Landholt's life is kind of on pause.
In May 2010, the St. Louis native graduated from Rice University with a professional degree in architecture. She got her bachelor's in the field in 2007. She moved home, began looking for a job, and that's where the pause began.
Landholt, 26, still lives in her small childhood bedroom, with boxes of her belongings crowded in the basement. She's still looking for a job and working all the part-time shifts she can at Macy's. She's still waiting for her career to begin.
And really, she says, what she envisioned wasn't way out there.
"I don't know necessarily what my expectations were when I graduated because they were pretty low already," she says one rainy evening after work.
It's tough, but Landholt is like an increasing number of her peers, according to a series of tables released from the U.S. Census Bureau.
From 2005 to 2011, they report, the number of men 25 to 34 living at home rose from 14 to 19 percent, and women in the same age group rose from 8 to 10 percent.
"The numbers are still pretty small," says Steven Ruggles, a professor and the director of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota.
A decade ago, he says, the media made a big deal of the prospect of a boomerang generation, though most demographers dismissed it.
Now, he says, "I guess it's actually occurring."
Since 1985, the number of young men and women who live at home has dipped and risen, according to the Census table based on the 2011 Current Population Survey. Interestingly, the table, which reflects national numbers, shows that recessions in the 1990s and 2000s didn't dramatically affect those trends.
"It doesn't really seem related," says Rose Kreider, author of the tables and a family demographer with the fertility and family statistics branch at the Census. "It wasn't a factor in the earlier recessions."
Ruggles, however, does see the recession as a factor. "Some of this is a response to economic needs of the younger generation. That's probably the bulk of it." But, he says, "It does seem like it's a relatively cyclical thing. It's not strictly due to the recession."
For Landholt, though, the economy seems responsible for most of her situation.
After moving home in May 2010, Landholt searched for a job in her field, preferably in small-scale historic rehabilitation. Really, though, she was just looking for a job.
She worked a seasonal shift at Macy's last Christmas and finally, in February of this year, found a job with a small firm. She worked there for four months before getting laid off.
Now, she's working another season in retail and still looking for a job -- any job, she adds, as long as it has benefits.
Landholt does not have a car, she usually takes the Metro to work, and her expenses include paying for her health insurance through Cobra and student loans.
"I could probably rent a one-bedroom or a studio, not in the best neighborhood, but for what I pay in health insurance, I could probably rent something," she says.
But in her search for a job, benefits and, eventually a place of her own, Landholt might have both her age and her sex working against her.
Last year, the Pew Research Center analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2009 and found that 37 percent of 18-to-29 year olds were either unemployed or totally out of the workforce. That was the highest number for the age group in 40 years. They also found that among 22-to-29 year olds, one in eight said they'd moved back home because of the recession.
And according to the Census tables, men and women were also affected differently, with the number of men living at home steadily rising before, during and after the recession and women rising, then leveling off.
Kreider thinks that could be because men have been reported to have been hit harder by the recent recession. But according to a July report from the Pew Research Center, from the end of the recession in June 2009 to May of 2011, men have actually fared much better. According to the report, men gained 768,000 jobs and lowered their unemployment number by 1.1 percent to 9.5, while women lost 218,000 jobs and their unemployment number rose .2 percent to 8.5.
"It's just really frozen now," Landholt says. "The economy is frozen right now. It's the biggest recession since the Great Depression."
At this point, Landholt's mother says, her family and friends know that Landholt's situation isn't because of a lack of talent or trying. She was a National Merit scholar, Joan Landholt says of her daughter; she was a top student and went to a top school.
"You tell your kids, you do your best and as long as you work hard and you make the grades and you do all those things right, you can do whatever you want and you can be whatever you want."
Now, she says, it's a little hard not to get resentful.
"We're just waiting for things to start for her and for her to have a future."
The Home Front
Landholt wasn't positive she wanted to talk about her situation for this story. It's tough.
Often, she says, her parents' friends tell her how hard things are for her generation right now. But then, she goes online and sees comments about her generation being entitled and lazy.
That, for her, is just not true. "I feel like it's important for people to know that I don't want to live at home. I'm not a slacker."
It is, instead, an economic necessity, just as it has been for young people through the centuries.
In the 19th century, 70 percent of all elderly lived with their adult children, Ruggles says. The 20th century saw the low point of that pattern: In 1988, the percent of elderly who lived with their adult children was about 14 percent.
Between 1850 and 2000, he says, changes in residence were spurred by increasing economic opportunity, especially with the industrial revolution.
Now, Ruggles says, marriage could be another factor in the return home. In 1960, according to Pew's recent analysis of U.S. Census numbers, 72 percent of people 18 and up were married. Now, it's just 51 percent. Men and women are marrying notably later, too, at 26.5 for women and 28.7 for men.
Cohabitation is also up, Ruggles adds, but not as high as marriage is going down.
Still, we probably aren't returning to a time when the majority of young people live at home.
"The long-run trend is still, by and far, living apart," he says. "It's never going back, I don't think, to the way it was in the 1870s, but there is more co-residence."
And that will continue for Landholt. She's still looking for a job. She's willing to move if that's what it takes, and is working with industry organizations and a recruiter. As the holidays approach, she's working whatever shifts at Macy's she can get. But she's also grateful that, despite everything, she still has a home at her parent's home.
"You feel like at least you can stay at home," Landholt says.
So many people are in worse situations.
"You feel fortunate," she says. "But still."