If you had told me in college that I would end up back under my parents' roof a few months after graduation, I probably would have quipped in response, "Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail." I had plans, and none of them included me being back in the very place I'd worked so hard to get away from.
But as I've noted before, mistakes of the past can quickly alter your present. Plans change. Speaking of changes, the phrase "You can't go home again" no longer carries the sting that it used to. Attribute that to the new reality the economy has produced — one in which millions of people are finding themselves going back from whence they came at the worst-possible time of their lives. In its latest look at income and poverty levels, the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that 5.9 million Americans — or 14.2 percent — between the ages of 25 and 34 are living with their parents.
That's a 25.5 percent increase since the recession began in 2007. Worse, the findings reveal that if half of those people weren't living under their parents' roof, they would be added to the 46.2 million people found to be living below the poverty line — the highest sum in at least half a century.
This frightening figure includes college graduates. A separate report claims that college alums represent the fastest-growing demographic of consumers who have filed for bankruptcy within the last five years. Even the likes of 34-year-old former Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister now says in court documents that he lives with his parents.
No matter what situation put them there, it goes without saying that it's better for anyone to room with his or her parents rather than with some random person on the sidewalk. However, perspective and gratitude don't automatically reverse the great humbling effect that moving back in with the folks can have on a person. I, for one, know just how humiliating that circumstance can be.
After missing out on one opportunity, I assumed that another would soon come as I continued to travel back and forth from my parents' home in Houston in search of a job back in 2007. It did not, which meant that I spent the next 18 months living my worst nightmare.
I love my parents, but my home life was volatile, and our greater community wasn't exactly a land of opportunity. In the interim I could net only small jobs with paltry checks that could barely cover the student loans now hovering over my head, let alone the expenses that came with full-fledged adulthood.
After a while, certain family members started offering unsolicited advice that translated into me giving up my dream. "I know you want to write," they said, "but in the meantime, do you think you can be a juvenile-detention officer like your brother?" No, I didn't want to baby-sit teenage murderers (and neither did he).
The longer I was there, the more apparent it became that if I wanted the kind of career I'd worked so hard in college to get, I would have to leave home again. I didn't have enough money, which made me stuck and helpless for the first time in several years. I tried to hold on to my ambition, but my good feelings wavered after the pressure — largely self-inflicted — kept mounting.
By the end of 2008, I was sinking — to the point that while en route to the doctor for a routine physical, I found myself having what I now realize was a panic attack on the freeway. I was reliving everything I wanted to get away from and felt too financially frail to do anything about it. The doctor had a solution: citalopram, a generic form of the anti-depressant Celexa, to treat anxiety.
A friend of mine in California had another idea: that I just up and move to a room in her apartment. The physician felt that the two couldn't coexist. I compromised anyway. The medicine helped, but not as much as deciding to move forward with my life and being fortunate to have a few things fall in place not long after.
I'm aware that this story is not the most common one shared by those in a similar predicament. Still, I have multiple friends who have either just moved out of their parents' house for a second time around or recently moved back in. None are ecstatic about it.
The levels of pressure may vary, but we all agree that there is a hidden cost to free rent: time. Life feels as if it's standing still when you have to revert to that great a degree — especially after earning one. Individually, each of us has the power to avoid getting sucked into the depths of despair over such a move. But none of us can escape what this growing problem might pose to society at large.
Timothy M. Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, explained to the Los Angeles Times, "The next generation is going to be terribly punished if we don't find more jobs." Punished by having their earnings decrease for many years into the future. Punished by not obtaining the proper skill sets to advance in their careers as quickly as they normally would. Punished by possibly never being able to catch up on all the time that's been lost.
If that trend doesn't subside, it will have real ramifications for everyone over time, regardless of whether you live with your parents.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.