Helicopter Parenting, Baby Boomers, & Financial Dependence

A few days ago, the AFL-CIO released the results of a surprising survey of workers under 35. This report, entitled Young Workers: A Lost Decade, contains some frightening statistics about the current state of employment and financial independence of people 35 and under.

A Few Shocking Facts:

– One in three young workers (those under 35) are currently living at home with their parents.
– Only 31% say they make enough money to cover their bills and put some money aside — 22% fewer than in 1999 – while 24% can’t pay their monthly bills.
– 37% have put off education or professional development because they can’t afford it.

What I Think is Happening:

1. High-income baby boomers aren’t retiring – at least not yet.

Many of them – many of my own family members included – are earning more than they ever have in their lives and see no reason to step out of the workplace while their health is intact, while they have freedom to travel and enjoy some of the luxuries in life, and while their children are still somewhat reliant on them. Plus, they’re uncertain about the status of their retirement (after the two recent giant market hiccups) and are afraid to rely on their retirement savings yet.

Quite often – as I’ve witnessed myself in workplace turnover – many workplaces will happily remove two people near retirement in order to hire two or three young workers at a reasonable starting wage. However, many people approaching retirement age simply aren’t retiring. They’ve got their health, they’ve got a healthy income, and they’re not feeling good about the security of retiring. They’re staying in the workplace when previous generations would be leaving.

And they’ve got kids in that 35 and under group who are struggling to keep their head above water, which leads us to the second problem.

I’m thirty. Many people my age still receive money regularly from my parents – I know several people personally who do. Beyond that, I know a few that still live at home with their parents. I know one married couple who lives with the bride’s parents.

Yes, I know more people who are on their own and fully independent than the people who are in these situations, but the statistics bear out the painful truth:

2. Children are remaining reliant on their parents until an older and older age.

Sure, some of it can be blamed on the job market – if baby boomers aren’t leaving the job market, then fewer new, good jobs are opening up.

However, the growth of “helicopter parenting” also plays a role. It’s commonplace for parents to be heavily involved with their children’s lives in college and often this keeps going into the workplace, where parents are involved in the salary negotiations for their children and, obviously, provide a home for their children if the job hunt doesn’t go quite as expected.

As a parent, I understand the desire to want to provide safety for my children. I don’t want my daughter to scrape her knee and I don’t want my son to fall off his bike. But I realize that if I don’t let my daughter climb those monkey bars and I don’t let my son ride off on his bike, they’ll never build up the self-confidence they need to realize that they can do this. Instead, when they fall, they’ll simply expect me to help – and that reliance often breeds a secret resentment as well.

The Solution? Cut the Cord

Parents, let your children be independent.

Let them fail a few times. Let them struggle a little. Yes, it’s tempting to go in there and solve their problems and kiss their scratches, but that short term balm causes a bigger long term problem of a lack of self-reliance. Don’t send your child money. Don’t call them constantly with encouragement. Don’t try to do things for them, either. Let them grow and figure it out.

Children, cut the connection yourself.

Ask your parents not to send that money and not to be involved in the core of your life. If they keep interfering, stop telling them about what’s going on with you. It’s not a matter of rejecting them or hating them, it’s about a separation of your life from theirs. It’s about growing up and taking the reins of your own life.

Don’t be afraid to take lesser jobs.

You probably won’t get the perfect job right out of college. That doesn’t mean you just sit and wait for it to happen. Work somewhere, even if it’s just delivering pizzas. Make your own money. Put in your own hours to earn that money. And use that money to fly on your own. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, you won’t get “ahead” as easy if your parents aren’t paying the bills. But you’ll learn how to rely on yourself and you’ll also learn how to make ends meet on a limited budget. The end result of that is that when things begin to turn around for you, you’ll have the self-reliance and maturity to grab things by the reins and take charge from day one.

It’s not about building the perfect, ideal path through life – there’s no such thing. Everyone will eventually fall at some point. Instead, it should be about learning that you can pick yourself up and dust yourself off on your own, and go on from there. This is an absolutely essential skill for the modern working world, and helicopter parenting makes this far more difficult.

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