April 23, 2006

According to a University of Michigan study, a full third of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are receiving cash from their parents annually. We’re not talking about a single, crisp greenback in an envelope on the Christmas tree. We’re talking cars, rent, down payments, cell phone bills, grad school, childcare and more.

As parents continue to underwrite their children’s lives a decade past the point of graduation, the age of adulthood –as defined by independence–is stretching farther and farther into the future. This NY Times article gives you a taste of the demographic.

Unlike young adults who “boomerang” back home to live with their parents… these young people live independently. But they need help to make ends meet, or put another way, to maintain a middle-class way of life…

There are many reasons cited for this prolonged dependence: stalled paychecks, higher housing costs, much higher education costs, too-easy credit, and later marriage. But aside from these very real phenomena, the parents profiled in the New York Times article seem to want to prevent their children from experiencing struggle or sacrifice. They want their children’s adult lives to be lived at the level to which they have become accustomed.

I can sympathize with some of the aid and largesse that these parents extend to their adult children, but I do think that there is a significant cost involved.

Thanks to Mom and Dad, 27-year-old Daisy Press performs avant-garde music instead of working at Starbucks, an alternative which her parents consider abhorrent. Miss Daisy articulates the trade-off:

“I think the down side, if I can even say there is a down side, is not necessarily feeling like an adult,” Ms. Press said. “There is a part of me that feels like I’m 19 or 20. I don’t have the emotional experience of knowing what I cost and earning what I spend. I can only imagine what it may feel like.”

Perhaps I put too much value on this because of my own history, but I believe that integrity, humility, strength, and resourcefulness are borne from “knowing what you cost and earning what you spend.” And preventing your 30-year-old child from ever learning these things is doing your child a real disservice.

When I think about the cultural implications of this trend, I imagine a sea of people who don’t know what it means to live within one’s means. I imagine a horde of people who lack flexibility and adaptability because they’ve never had to bend, simplify, eat beans and rice, take the bus, and go without cable TV. These are people who will never know what it means to work a shit job and have their worldview and politics informed by the experience.

Y’all, please remind me of this screed in about, say, 18 years or so, when Jude is batting his eyelashes at me and I’m folding his laundry.