The Backwards Generation

By Anthony Lolli, Special  for USDR

For generations, the late 20s-to-mid 30s have been considered prime earning years, when people typically come into their own as independent adults. It’s the time when they hit their stride in their chosen career, forever ditching jobs with names that include words like assistant, associate, or junior for more impressive titles further up the corporate ladder. It’s when they buy a home, settle down, and start a family of their own, if they haven’t already.

At least, that’s the theory.

A recent Yconic/Abacus Data Survey of over 1,500 Canadian Millennials discussed in The Globe and Mail found that 43% of 30-33-year-olds said they had not attained financial independence from their parents. 18% of the same age group said they still lived at home, and 47% said they saw nothing wrong with moving back in with their parents if it would save money. Although the study was conducted in Canada, the results mirror what’s happening here in the US.

The most remarkable thing about this study’s findings is that, that despite their dire financial straits (22% reported living paycheck-to-paycheck or being effectively broke, and over half said they were struggling to build any savings at all), Generation Y is largely optimistic about their circumstances and their hopes for the future. Although only 46% of those aged 30-33 are saving for retirement, 56% said they felt they would be able to save enough to live on, and 72% said they would be able to retire before they turned 70.

It’s easy to dismiss this optimism as short-sightedness, or the self-delusion of a generation that grew up with constant praise and no attention span, or some other shopworn brush-off older people use to categorize the behavior of a generation they can’t relate to. It’s easy to think of Generation Y as a bunch of slackers, and to blame the parents for coddling them when they let them move back home or help them with their bills into their 30s. But the truth, as usual, is a bit more complex.

Today’s young adults face $1.3 trillion in student loan debt at a time when having flawless credit is more important than ever before and banks aren’t lending, a brutal job market with vicious competition and painfully few opportunities, stagnant wages that offer vastly less purchasing power than previous generations had at the same age, and skyrocketing rent and housing prices.

When I started a real estate company back in 1998, many of the landlords I worked with wouldn’t accept guarantors. They didn’t like the extra paperwork and the uncertainty of dealing with a third party. I had to convince them—sometimes over the course of years—to accept guarantors so they could appeal to the young people who wanted to move to their neighborhoods in droves. Today, landlords who previously couldn’t care less about a tenant’s credit score as long as they’d never been evicted, and who didn’t want to hear the word guarantor, now won’t take a young tenant, even one with a steady job and good pay, without a full credit report and a guarantor—a parent, a wealthy aunt, anyone at all so long as they’re older and established—to co-sign the lease, even if they’ll never actually need help paying the rent.

When you hear of a 30-year-old moving back home, the instinct is to want to step into the role of a backseat parent and tell those parents to stop letting their kid mooch off them their whole life. Kick ‘em out! Tell ‘em to get a job!

But when it’s your own kid, and they’re trying their hardest to find work just like you taught them, but there aren’t any jobs to be had, it’s not so easy to show them the door. When more than a third of 30-33-year-olds are unable to find full-time work in their field, let alone something that pays forty times the record-shattering rent prices, which is what many metropolitan landlords require; and when that great social contract—that our kids shall have it better than we had it ourselves—has failed for so many, what parent could bear to turn their children away?

That may explain the parents letting their kids come back home, but what about the kids themselves? Why are they so content with their situation, when so many of them are depending on their parents so late in life?

Perhaps it’s because they’re not alone. When one 30-year-old moves back home because he or she couldn’t find steady work or afford an apartment, they might feel like a failure. But when they return home and half their friends are already there, it feels like just part of life.

It’s amazing how quickly the idea of a member of Generation Y leaning on their parents for support has become accepted, and even a part of the zeitgeist. HBO Go (HBO’s streaming service) is a great example. This service has only existed since 2010, and already it’s become a joke that the only people who use HBO Go are young adults effectively stealing their parents’ HBO subscription.

Obviously, it would be best for HBO if everyone who watched their programming was paying for their own subscription. And yet, Richard Plepler, the CEO of HBO, has gone on record saying he doesn’t care. HBO has even released a series of ads for HBO Go aimed at Generation Y, based around the notion that the service allows young adults to watch the network’s shows without the awkwardness of having to sit through the sex scenes while watching with their parents.

Clearly, Plepler and the fine folks at HBO believe that they’re courting future customers; that although these young peoplemight not be able to afford their own HBO subscription right now, they will someday. It’s the same optimism that Gen Y-ers have about their own future—things may be tough right now, but there’s still plenty of time for them to get better.

And for what it’s worth, they may be right. 36% of 30-33-year-olds may not have full-time jobs in their field, but that’s still an awful lot better than the 73% of those in the 25-29 range who are in the same boat. Maybe what we have here isn’t a failure to launch, but a wholly understandable delay.

Anthony Lolli is a real estate investor, philanthropist, and the award-winning founder and CEO of Rapid Realty NYC (www.rapidnyc.com), the nation’s first rental-based real estate franchise system. He served as an advisor to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams as co-chair of the Small Business Committee. He was recently named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Golden Bridge Awards. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/anthonylolli and follow him on Twitter at @Anthony_Lolli.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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