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Family Budgets May Feel a Pinch When Young Adults Return Home

But working children can help feather the empty nest

mother and daughter talking in living room

Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

En español | Raising kids is expensive. For middle-income parents, the cost of raising a child to age 17 can be over $230,000, according to 2015 figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And that doesn't include potential higher education costs and continuing financial support of offspring into their 20s.

What the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear, however, is just how family budgets are impacted by young adults returning to the empty nest. Myriad additional expenses arise as young people move back into their parents’ homes for a variety of reasons. Among them: their own job losses, the ability to work remotely and save on big-city rent, graduation from college into a diminished job market, or leaving college campuses as they shut down for virtual learning. Whatever the situation, some parents find that emerging adults suddenly at home means absorbing the expenses that go with them.

Depending on where you live, costs will vary across the country but, overall, supporting kids can get expensive, says Jeffrey Dew, an associate professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.

Household costs for families

Considering common household expenses such as housing, food and transportation, the average annual cost for a household of three in the U.S. is roughly $63,000, according to 2019 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Supporting a family was already expensive and the pandemic put many families on a bumpier financial roller coaster, says Jesse Ketterman, a family and consumer sciences educator at the University of Maryland. Sudden financial fluctuations, such as uncertainty over stimulus checks and jobless benefits, made it difficult for families to plan for stable finances. For working families, the household budget suddenly had to absorb more.

Groceries and utilities are examples of costs that go up for a household when young people return home, Ketterman says. College students or early career professionals may have paid their own costs while living alone but shifted those costs back to their families. In addition to basic needs, parents may be funding work equipment, transportation, and increased car or other insurance, all of which add up.

Of course, student dorm rooms or starter apartments could be a cost saving that mitigates additional household expenses, says Ketterman, as could young adults who have a job and contribute to their family's income. Two incomes supporting one household will be cheaper than supporting two households, says Ketterman.


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Impact of the pandemic

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more 25 year olds were still living at home with their parents than in the previous generation, says Dew.

The Pew Research Center found 52 percent of young adults lived with one or both of their parents in 2020. It was the highest number of kids still in the nest since the 1940s, when 48 percent of young adults lived with their parents during the post-Great Depression era.

“COVID hit young adults more strongly, as it relates to finances, than older adults,” says Dew. Young adults are typically more financially unstable than older adults. So when the pandemic hit, many had no choice but to return home.

Dew says families potentially save money when their young adults are back home. If parents pay college dormitory fees or the rent for an apartment, those costs are eliminated if their child lives at home. Of course, that doesn't address the under-researched area of the financial impact of 19- to 25-year-old adults who are not in college, he says.

As college students returned to campuses and young adults returned to in-person jobs, the U.S. Census Bureau found a decrease in the number of 18- to 29-year-old adults living at home in late 2020.

With more and more kids moving out for a second time as the pandemic wanes, parents are finding themselves with an empty nest once again.

Mikaela Cohen is a digital news and features intern for AARP.org. She is a graduate student at the University of Georgia, where she has covered business and culture news for The Red & Black Newspaper, a local publication.

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