Gen Y & their Boomerang to Nowhere

The Boomerang Generation

“Generation Y” and “The Millennial Generation” are common labels for the generation of Americans born from the early 80’s through the early 90’s (no doubt a healthy proportion of readers of this blog, by the way)

This age group has also taken on some other monikers recently. Some of them not so flattering.

You’ve probably heard “Generation Why?”, “Generation Me”, and “The Facebook Generation” – all typically used in the context to point fingers at this generation’s cynicism, narcissism, or infatuation with virtual vs. in-person interaction, respectively.

But lately, there’s been a few new labels to join that group: “The Boomerang Generation” (in homage to the Boomers) and the “Go Nowhere Generation”.

In a recent national poll, 85% of grads said they planned to move back home. And the percentage of young adults aged 25-34 living in a multi-generational home has doubled from 11% in the early 80’s to 22% today. 40% of 18 to 24 year-olds live with their parents. Very boomerang-y, indeed (or maybe they never left).

But why? Let’s look at some possible explanations.

generation y boomerang

Generation Y Unemployment Rates

According to BLS employment data, 13.8% of those aged 20-24 are unemployed, which is up from a pre-recession low of 7.2%. Similarly, 9.8% of 25-29 year-olds are unemployed, vs. a pre-recession low of 4.5%.

In both cases, you’re looking at an unemployment rate of double, and that is down, because we’ve “recovered” (of course).

The actual employed-to-population ratio of each group tells an even bigger picture – at 61.8% and 72.8% respectively as of February of this year. That’s a whole lot of unemployed Gen-Y’ers, many of which aren’t even bothering to try to find a job. And it doesn’t even factor in those who are under-employed and can’t afford to live anywhere but with their parents.

I could see the scenario developing where a Gen-Y’er graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt after busting their butt in school for four or more years, only to go on to having no success in getting an entry level job (despite the implied promise), becoming quite cynical or doubtful of the system, and at least temporarily throwing in the towel and moving back home.

Less Opportunity & More Cynicism

The likelihood of 20-somethings moving to another state has dropped well over 40 percent since the 1980s, according to calculations based on Census Bureau data.

Part of that can probably be attributed to the economy. Climbing the corporate ladder by moving across country has become harder with the lack of new jobs being created.

Corporate ambition has become a whole lot less desirable to many people as well. 70.8 percent of Americans want to be self-employed. I would expect that number to be even higher in Gen Y.

Move across the country for a 10% raise? Not as appealing as it maybe once was.

Less Physical Mobility

Another reason for less mobility might be increased transportation costs. When you don’t have a job, $4 per gallon gas can be severely limiting.

Economic or otherwise, excitement about getting a car has waned. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found: “About 87 percent of 19-year-olds in 1983 had their licenses, but 25 years later, that percentage had dropped to about 75 percent. Other teen driving groups have also declined: 18-year-olds fell from 80 percent in 1983 to 65 percent in 2008, 17-year-olds decreased from 69 percent to 50 percent, and 16-year-olds slipped from 46 percent to 31 percent.”

I’m probably too old to understand the sentiment of not wanting to be able to have the option of driving myself. But it is clearly a growing trend.

Is “Going Nowhere” so Bad?

“Going nowhere” as Gen Y was recently dubbed, is much less endearing than “boomerang”, and implies a laziness or undesirable lack of ambition.

That, however, is unfair to many. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to stay close to your roots. There can be strong financial incentive for you and your parents if you are splitting costs. And some people simply really like their family or are still closely tied to friends they grew up with.

Where staying put becomes troublesome is when:

  • the job search towel has been thrown in without expanding the search geographically.
  • the person who stays home returns or stays simply out of comfort and doesn’t have desire to push their own growth.
  • laziness or a sense of entitlement is the driving force.

I’ve seen examples of all three. And in every case, the narrative is not healthy or inspiring.

I was a boomeranger for 10 months. Years have gone by since, and like every boomerang that has ever left my hand, a return is highly unlikely.

Boomerang Generation Discussion:

  • Have you or someone close to you boomeranged back home to live with parents? Why? And how is it going?
  • For what reasons do you think Gen Y is becoming the boomerang or go nowhere generation?
  • Is this a temporary or longer term trend?

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