NEW YORK When Melissa Jenkins received her college diploma last year, she was ready to get on with life and move in with her parents.
The 23-year-old from North Reading, Mass., was saddled with student loans from her years at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire and felt she had no solid career prospects.
"It didn't make sense for me to move out on my own," she says. "I didn't have the appropriate funds. I was searching for a career path."
When the Class of 2008 graduates this spring, nearly half are expected to move back home, according to Susan Shaffer, co-author of "Mom, Can I Move Back in with You?: A Survival Guide for Parents of Twentysomethings." They're called Boomerangers, and their number has remained pretty consistent since the dot-com bust, she says, a result of financial and social pressures unknown to previous generations.
The economy isn't entirely to blame: This year's job outlook is better than last's, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, with companies planning to hire 8 percent more recent graduates this year.
Still, wages for new grads haven't kept pace with inflation and rising student loan and credit card debt and a troubled housing market make a return to the nest more likely, experts say.
Today's 20-somethings also have better relationships with their parents they don't mind trading in their independence, and their parents are OK with having them come home.
"It's become the norm for recent grads to move back home," says Alexandra Robbins, author of "Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis."
According to 2006 Census figures, 46.7 percent of women and 53.7 percent of men ages 18 to 24 still live at home, although those numbers include college students living in dorms. For ages 25 to 34, 14.3 percent of men lived with their parents in 2006, compared to 10.9 percent in 1960.
Robbins says 20-somethings can't afford to be independent these days. "Even before this latest downturn, this generation was not earning the same wages that their parents earned, taking inflation into consideration," she says.
Of course, starting salaries have never been high even Baby Boomers made low wages in their first post-college gig, says Anna Ivey, an admissions and career consultant.
But 73 percent of today's graduating seniors will leave college with an average of about $23,000 in student loans, according to the Student Monitor Spring 2008 Recruitment study. And the average outstanding balance on undergraduate credit cards was $2,169, according to a 2004 Nellie Mae survey, the most recent year available.
"They might have good jobs, but they are also graduating with a lot of debt," says Ivey. "That can make it hard to meet basic expenses once they are out of college."
Many graduates are also reluctant to compromise on the expensive lifestyle they've come to enjoy, says Nicholas Aretakis, author of "No More Ramen: The 20-something's Real World Survival Guide."
Luxuries like cell phones,
iPods and digital cable have become essential to them, so they go into shock when they enter the work force and realize how much basics like health insurance and gas cost, says Aretakis. College dorms don't make that transition much easier with amenities like private bathrooms, house-cleaning services, state-of-the-art fitness centers, and 24-hour cafeterias, adds Ivey.
And with parents not pulling up the welcome back, it's more comfortable for young adults to come home, says Frances Goldscheider, a demographer and co-author of "The Changing Transition to Adulthood: Leaving and Returning Home."
"The Baby Boom generation is much more egalitarian," says Goldscheider. "They don't tell their children, 'As long as you are under my roof, you have to do it my way,' the way their parents did to them."
Carolyn Carbery, 53, of St. Louis, says she made very few rules when her son moved back after graduating from DePaul University last year to look for a job. She says it's been fun having him around.
"When he moves, I'm going to be sad," she says. "I'm hoping he stays fairly close."
Jim Swope, 53, of Palm Harbor, Fla., says he gets along really well with his son, who is graduating next month and moving home to find an engineering gig.
"His mother is really looking forward to it," says Swope. "When the time comes and he is ready to move out, we'll certainly be supportive of that. You want to see them be successful."
And most returning grads do move out within a couple of years, says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, author of "Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties."
Jenkins, who has been working as an account coordinator for Experience Inc. for seven months, is moving into her own apartment at the end of the month.
"I'm not so sure if anyone plans on being 22, 23 years old living in your parents' house," she says. "But it's not a bad reality. I definitely am grateful for the time I had to set up money, be more secure and be more confident about being on my own."