Leaving the nest: Young adults move forward in big numbers to test the job market

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2 2013 7:25 p.m. MST

As teens move forward in the aftermath of a recession, adjustments must be made in moving out of mom and dad's basement.

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JIM THORPE, Pa. — Recent Cornell University graduate Sky Fogal stands in the doorway of a small, 40-year-old lake house in the heart of Pennsylvania.

The vintage fake wood veneer paneling is a stark juxtaposition to his parents' three-story lakeside bungalow, where he spent the past six months. Though he will have to adjust to making his own meals and paying his own bills, the transition allows him the dignity of living on his own.

The Internet is full of reports of young adults returning home — college graduates moving into Mom's and Dad's basement to pay student loans hardly met by the job opportunities of today's economy. Leaving home post-recession, though less dramatic, is no less difficult a transition. Young adults 25-29 are the primary out-of-state movers, according to the latest census report. As more American young adults leave the comfort of the nest to test the job market, transition requires some adjustments.

“I basically went from being a freeloader to a quasi landlord,” Fogal said. "Though living at home as a young person has become widely expected in today's economy, venturing out on my own has afforded me the autonomy I need."

Tip of the iceberg

Young adults 25-29 are leaving for out-of-state job opportunities at the biggest jump — 3.4 percent in 2011 to 3.8 percent in 2012 — since 1999, when the rapid rise of Internet start-ups preceded a young worker migration, according to census data released Oct. 25.

As young adults are making big moves to test the job market in urban, high-tech metropolises, dense cities such as New York, San Francisco, Boston and Seattle are working to cater to single young adults looking for affordable spaces in prime locations.

"Young singles that have been holed up at home are among the first to test the waters," said William H. Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who reviewed the numbers. He pointed to the migration of young people — not tied down to a housing mortgage or loan payments — as a response to a recovering job market.

"This rise in mobility of young singles is just the tip of the iceberg," Frey said. "Other population groups — retirees, older professionals, families — will follow suit as soon as the job market and housing market return back to normal."

In October, an estimated 578,000 more people returned to the labor force than in September, which saw an additional 418,000 people — marking two months of strong growth, according to a survey conducted this month by the Labor Department.

"I would expect more positions to become available, and I would also expect to see mobility to increase over the next few years," said Mark Mather, associate vice president at the Population Reference Bureau. He attributed the upswing in mobility to an emerging group of young people wanting to test the job market that is showing signs of improvement.

Taking the leap

Roughly 5.6 million Americans ages 25-34, or 13.6 percent, lived with their parents in 2011, a decrease from 14.2 percent during the previous year.

Upon graduating with an Ivy League degree in hotel administration and real estate from Cornell, Fogal had accepted a job offer in Las Vegas. When the company went bankrupt two months before he graduated, he returned home to begin a job hunt that would last for six months.

Fogal said living in his parents' house had not affected his social life. "I lived in the basement of the house, which wasn't much different from my university life, in which I also lived alone."

When Fogal moved out of his parents' house to begin working as a marketing assistant, he found that some adjustments were still required to make the transition.

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