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More American Households 'Doubling Up' Amid Hard Times

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, I share my thoughts about the recent tragedy at Rutgers University in my weekly "Can I Just Tell You?" commentary.

But first, fall is clearly here, and as we head toward Halloween and eventually the holidays, some of you might already be thinking ahead to traditional family gatherings - those memorable meals, when familial bonds are often tested over turkey.

But for a growing number of adult children, reconnecting with kin is more than just a holiday affair. New census data shows that record numbers of adults over the age of 35 are packing up and moving in with relatives. Nearly half a million have done so in the past two years. That's compared with 400,000 young adults in the 25-34 age group. Overall, American households with extended family have increased by more than 11 percent.

I'm joined in the studio now by NPR digital correspondent Corey Dade, who has reported on the doubling-up phenomenon. Also with us, Tondalah Stroud. She's a 37-year-old mom who along with her husband, 9-year-old son and two dogs, moved back into her childhood home along with her 56-year-old mother. And she's with us from Chicago. And I welcome you both. Thanks so much for joining us.

COREY DADE: Thank you.


MARTIN: Corey, what got you onto this story? What made you see this phenomenon?

DADE: Michel, this came from a story that we wrote about two weeks ago, looking at the updated poverty statistics that come out every year. And within that data, we found increasing numbers of people who were actually moving in with other people. It was having an influence on the poverty rate. And what we found is when adults moved in with other people who were a little bit more financially secure, the poverty levels of those struggling adults actually went down. So it had a benefit to them. And so from that, that's when we found far more numbers of people moving in with relatives to save money.

MARTIN: And Tondalah, is that your story? I understand that you're back in the bedroom you grew up in.

Ms. STROUD: Yes, I am. And that is definitely my story. My husband and I decided to move in with my mom because we wanted to find a way to decrease our debt, as well as invest more money into our business that we have. And so after receiving an offer from the military to rent out our home, we had about two weeks to make a decision. And we called my mother and asked, and made the decision to go ahead with her because it would help her as well as us and the business.

MARTIN: And can I ask: What was the precipitating event? Was it job loss? Was it hours being cut? Forgive me - was there a crisis? Or...

Ms. STROUD: No, there was no crisis. In our home that we rented out, the taxes had gone up, and we had lots of credit card debt - as well as medical bills - that we really wanted to pay down because we have a business that we had just launched in 2008. And so with the economy, and given the banks not wanting to really give loans to small businesses, we really didn't have an option in terms of being able to invest more cash into the business.

So we decided one of the best things to do was to go ahead and rent out the house in order to generate some additional income and move in with my mother in order to help to pay down some of the credit card debt that we incurred due to us investing into our own business. And so, in the short term, we knew that it would also help my mom to pay down some of her credit debt as well.

MARTIN: Because you're paying - are you paying rent?

Ms. STROUD: Yes.

MARTIN: To her?

Ms. STROUD: Yes.

MARTIN: I see. So what's it been like?

Ms. STROUD: Well, it's - actually, it hasn't been that bad. I thought, originally, when we first moved in that it may become difficult or, you know -you just hear the horror stories of fighting with your parents or the person that you moved in with. And actually, it's been very good. I think that my husband and my mom have developed a closer relationship. My mom definitely loves having my son there every day. And the biggest benefit of all is, you know, we're - all have the ability to contribute more money toward some of the debt that we had as well as to, you know, the business because of it. So it's actually been a pretty good decision that we made.

MARTIN: So you're paying rent, but you're not paying as much rent as you would be paying if you were still in your own home.

Ms. STROUD: Exactly.

MARTIN: Okay. And I do have to ask, because I know your husband is - came with you, although he's not sitting with you at the moment. I can see where this might be a little tough for him, having - this is - you're kind of returning to the nest, and sometimes people regress a little bit when they go home and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...start acting like the 15-year-old they used to be, as opposed to the grown-up mom that they are now. And I could see where for him, he might feel that this is a little bit of a loss of autonomy, privacy. How's he doing?

Ms. STROUD: Well, if you were to talk to him, what he would say is - this is exactly what he actually told me right before we came here. I said, you know, what are your thoughts? And he said, actually, you know, I feel as though me and your mom's relationship has grown since then, you know.

But we've been married for four years, and so he feels as if he knows her better and understands her even more now. And actually, to me, he's really living it up because she fixes lunch every day. He gets these nice, luscious salads and, you know, we come home and she's folded his clothes. And in addition to what I do for him, to me, I think he has a pretty good deal going.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, how about you? Do you feel any kind of - here you were running your own show, your kitchen, your house, your rules, and now you're back in Mom's house, Mom's kitchen, Mom's rules. How's it for - how are you doing?

Ms. STROUD: Well, I'm actually doing okay. And the reason why, too, I think that we may be a little different than some is we actually have opposite hours. So my mom works nights, so when - she's usually not there when we are there. When she's coming in, we're asleep. When we leave, she sleeps. And so we really - it's kind of a tag in the household.

And so I would say, probably the most challenging part of this all is, we really don't have an opportunity to have company over. And I would say that's probably the biggest thing that we're missing. We have a lot of adds to being there. But the biggest thing we're missing is our social life. And it's a sacrifice right now. We're used to having large barbecues and having people over. And - but at the same time, I would say between the three of us, we're also working toward a goal. And so because that goal is set in front of us, we don't really take time to look at what we're missing because we're together, but we're looking at ultimately, the goal that we're trying to meet.

MARTIN: Well, different hours - that could be a recipe for family harmony, you know. Who knows what...

Ms. STROUD: It is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, Corey, one of the things that I was struck by in your reporting is that we know that the younger adults, the 18- to 24-year-olds, are having a very difficult time in the job market. And yet you find that the largest group of so-called boomerang kids are people like Tondalah - who's 35 and older. Why do you think that is?

Mr. DADE: Well, for starters, they're a larger group in number. So the age range actually goes from 35 up to 64. Of course, that number, the largest percentage of them is going to be under 50. But I think that what the census data show, and other data show, and my interviews with - for the story show that this is directly connected to job loss, certainly in the last two years. And when you talk about job loss, this has hit people who are professionals, who have been out in the workplace for longer periods of time.

You also talk about the foreclosure crisis. This affected the middle-aged people who are higher numbers of homeowners than - say, folks in their 20s. So as a result, they're going to have perhaps much more collateral damage than someone who's in their 20s who has less experience, fewer assets, etc.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're talking about the rising number of adult children moving back in with their parents and other family members as the economic recession has taken its toll.

With us to talk more about this is NPR digital correspondent Corey Dade, who's been reporting on this phenomenon, and Tondalah Stroud. She's a 37-year-old mom who along with her husband and young son, has moved back in with her mother in the Chicago area.

So Corey, we know, also, that minority groups, particularly African-Americans, have been particularly hard-hit by job loss and unemployment in the economic downturn. Is there any correlation in the Census Bureau data on the increase in these groups?

Mr. DADE: Yes. When you look at it, there are higher instances of non-white, non-Hispanics moving in with relatives. And all the data point to African-Americans in particular, but people of color, in general, being hardest hit.

When you look at income and poverty levels, Asian-Americans are the group whose poverty level remained flat - did not grow, did not increase. They actually fared better than every other group, including whites.

MARTIN: And why do you think that is?

Mr. DADE: For starters, they're a smaller group. But beyond that, by comparison, by percentage - by proportion, rather - they have higher degrees of education, higher incomes, and they're more entrepreneurial. They tend to own their own businesses. Their families tend to be employees or partners in their businesses. So they've been able to solidify themselves economically a little bit better.

MARTIN: And the intergenerational household is not at all uncommon in a lot of ethnic families. So in a way, it's back to the future.

Mr. DADE: Yeah. In a way, it is. It's a double-edge sword when you talk about multifamily households because on the one hand, they're able to pool their resources financially. But on the other hand, in the case of an economic downturn, that actually masks the severity of the economic times on individuals - because the government can't properly assess the economic conditions of each individual adult in that household.

MARTIN: So in fact, you're saying that the poverty numbers that we've already seen, which are pretty disturbing, would actually be even more disturbing were it not for the fact that people are consolidating their households.

Mr. DADE: Easily. In one of our data points in the story, we look at the poverty rate among this group. If you look at the number of adults under the same roof from 2009, the poverty rate for them was roughly 17 percent nationwide. And that's because the incomes of the folks who moved in with relatives was taken into account, was combined with the incomes of the homeowners who owned - the relatives who owned the house. But if you look at the incomes of those individuals who moved in with the relatives, just separate it out, that poverty level goes from 17 percent to 44 percent.

MARTIN: Wow. That's pretty stunning. Okay, Tondalah, a final thought from you. You told us that you really weren't hard up against it when you moved in with your mom. You were actually trying to - kind of stabilize your situation, and see if you could get a little bit ahead. What's your time frame? How long do you think it'll be before you can move to the next stage of your lives?

Ms. STROUD: Actually, we're looking to begin looking for a new home in early spring because by then, we will have paid off some additional debt. We were in a 900-square-foot store location for our business, and now we have opened a 4,000-square-foot location. And so we're trying to stabilize some things there. And we anticipate that by spring, we should have the bulk of credit card debt paid off - and some additional debt that has been incurred from opening up the new location - and be able to begin looking for a new home. And so we made a commitment to ourselves as well as to my mother what the goal would be, and that we wouldn't be there permanently...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STROUD: ...and we wouldn't take advantage. And I think that's one of the key things, also - you know, moving in with a relative - is making sure that you don't take advantage. And so our goal is definitely, by early spring, to be out. And of course, by then, we're also looking to have stabilized - like I say - the new business, and be able to move forward.

MARTIN: And then hopefully, you'll have that big barbecue that you've been missing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STROUD: Yes.

MARTIN: All right. Tondalah Stroud just moved her family back in with her mom, just outside of Chicago. And as you've heard her tell you herself, things are going pretty well, and we're happy about that.

Corey Dade is an NPR digital correspondent. He's here with me in our Washington, D.C., studio.

Thank you both so much for joining us.

Mr. DADE: Thank you, Michel.

Ms. STROUD: Thank you.

MARTIN: If you want to read Corey's additional reporting on this subject, please go to our website; we'll link to it. Just go to npr.org; click on programs, then on TELL ME MORE. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: April 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
The guest for this report (Tondalah Stroud) was obtained from an original report written by Aisha I. Jefferson for Black Enterprise magazine.