Census: Everybody’s moving into their parents’ basements

June 20, 2012

Daniel Sherrett, 28, prepares dinner with his mother as part of his deal to live at home. Parents and children are sharing homes for longer than expected. (Michael Temchine/The Washington Post)

Ever since the financial crisis hit, Americans have found it harder and harder to live on their own. According to a new report (pdf) from the Census Bureau, the number of "shared households" increased by a whopping 2.25 million between 2007 and 2010:

In spring 2007, there were 19.7 million shared households. By spring 2010, the number of shared households had increased by 11.4 percent, while all households increased by only 1.3 percent.

This number does not include co-habitating or married couples. Rather, it's specifically a measure of the growing fraction of Americans who are either living with roommates or shacking up with relatives. And the bulk of the increase came from kids who are living at home with their parents: "Between 2007 and 2010, the number of adult children who resided in their parents’ households increased by 1.2 million." (Most of those, the Census notes, were between 25 and 34.)

Not surprisingly, the poor economy played a huge role here. The census data show that about 40 percent of the "additional adults" in a household have personal incomes below the poverty line. And the fact that so many kids are living at home can actually obscure the poverty rate for young people:

The official poverty rate for young adults aged 25 to 34 living with parents was 8.4 percent in 2010, but if poverty status was determined by personal income, 45.3 percent would have been in poverty.

That's an important number. Right now, the economic recovery in the United States is being held back by the fact that the housing sector has been depressed. And the housing sector has been depressed (in part) because many people are deciding to double up with roommates or live at home rather than get their own places. That's tamped down demand for new construction. Bill McBride of Calculated Risk thinks that that has started to change in recent months (rents have been rising, for instance), but it will be a slow process as long as many of those basement-dwellers are too poor to strike out on their own.

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