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Economy forces college graduates to return to parents' home

MELVILLE, N.Y. — They're home again.


Many recent college graduates have returned to their families as they struggle to find jobs, taking up residence in their teenage bedrooms after four years away from home.

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With almost 2 million college grads unemployed and businesses estimating they are hiring 22 percent fewer recent grads, the recession has taken a cruel toll on the class of 2009.


And as the new semester starts and the grads aren't returning to college, families wrestle with the changes in home life. Everything from curfews to remote-control rights can become the subject of negotiation and stress.



Joan Atwood
, a professor in Hofstra University's graduate programs in marriage and family therapy, knows firsthand how challenging that can be. Her own two daughters came back home after college in the late 1990s.


Two years ago, she wrote a research paper, ""The Quarter-Life Crisis,"" about the family tensions that arise when post-adolescent offspring head back to their old quarters.


""In my private practice, I often see these young people who have returned from college and then starting having issues with their parents as they look for work,"" said Atwood, noting that the recession has only worsened the trend.


Only about 20 percent of the class of 2009 had found jobs by the time they graduated, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That compares to more than 50 percent of the 2007 grads.


""Even those who go to graduate school find it's difficult. They don't have any money. They can't go to school full time, work full time and survive.""



Marianna Savoca
, director of Stony Brook University's career center, said the tensions at home are heightened when a family's money is tight as well. Some of her students from New York City ""seem to be more stressed because they tell us that they are expected to get a job to help with the family's expenses.""


On Long Island, Newsday interviewed three recent grads and their families trying to cope.



JADE JUMA



Jade Juma
, 23, spent four years earning a bachelor's degree in communications at Penn State University, but these days she's back home in Shirley, N.Y., learning anew how to communicate with her parents.


The biggest stress comes from her social life. She's not the type to go partying, but she loves her friends. When she goes out at night, she has to tell her parents her hour-by-hour plans. ""If I don't, the endless phone calls begin. 'Who are you with? Where are you going? What time do you think you will be home? Are you driving?'""


Although Juma isn't dating anyone, most of her friends are male. She knows the strict rules of her parents: No boys in her room. ""Not even if they are friends,"" Juma said. ""I know it's hard to believe, but it's true.""


Juma had hoped to get a job in Philadelphia or somewhere else, but instead she churns out resumes from her bedroom. ""This has been culture shock,"" she said.


Like many returning graduates, Juma helps with chores, but doesn't pay rent or utilities. She also does volunteer work at a nursing home, which helps to keep something current on her resume.


Her mother, Vicki, said she felt safe when Jade went out on her peaceful college campus, but now she stays up late and worries whenever Jade arrives home late. ""It's an adjustment for everyone in the house. She wanted to be self-sufficient and spread those wings.""



Jade Juma
set a goal for herself: ""To save up as much money and get out as quickly as possible."" Although she'd hoped to work in the media, now she's looking for a job as a receptionist – or anything.


""When you enter college, you have to take a freshman seminar to get acquainted with college,"" she said last week. ""Why not have a senior seminar that gets you acquainted with the idea of living home?""


Juma recently endured a new setback: Her father lost his job as a computer programmer for an insurance company when it was outsourced to another country. Now the family's home is the base for a father and daughter looking for work.


Atwood said she can empathize with young people in Juma's position, because her daughters, too, wanted freedom when they returned home – even though they weren't out partying. ""She sees her father unemployed, so that adds to her feeling that the economic situation is desperate,"" Atwood said.


She says Juma is doing the right thing by volunteering. She also recommends that students in this situation find a temporary job or go back to school to learn a different skill. ""Maybe she can team up with other young women and get an apartment at some point,"" Atwood said.



KIMBERLY ALEXANDER



Kimberly Alexander
, 21, graduated from Stony Brook in May with a psychology degree, and moved in with her parents and grandmother in Queens Village, N.Y. While her possessions are back in a bedroom with pink carpeting, dozens of teddy bears and a canopy bed from elementary school, her mind and body seem to remain on campus.


""I find myself tripped up by the many habits that I acquired living by myself,"" she said. ""Simple things like eating habits and sleeping habits.""


Alexander likes to stay up late at night, texting friends and applying for jobs. During her hectic junior and senior years at college, she found she didn't require a lot of sleep, and when she did need to catch up she slept in the morning.


That's something that her family can't abide. ""She is awake all night and she sleeps most of the day,"" said her mother, Molly, an accountant. ""I talk to her about this. When she starts working, how is she going to readjust?""


Her mom said she's delighted to have Kimberly back home, but that the family is adjusting to the college ways. On campus, Kimberly became accustomed to eating small, sporadic snacks – despite a family tradition of eating regular, sit-down meals.


Atwood urges young people like Alexander to explain how they changed at college. ""She has to tell her parents that even if they want to continue the rituals the family has had since she was born, she might want to work on the computer all night rather than sleep at 10 o'clock,"" she said. ""Both the family rituals and Kimberly's rituals have to be respected.""



MICHAEL HEATON
:


Every weekday,
Michael Heaton
, 21, sips coffee brewed by his mother, then makes the three-hour, 140-mile round trip commute to work in White Plains, N.Y. He comes home for a dinner prepared by his mother.


She also does his laundry and picks up his dry cleaning.


Heaton is a success story. He'd earned so many advanced-placement credits in high school that he graduated from Manhattan College as an economics major in three years. He found a job as a payroll supervisor in a home health care agency in White Plains at what he calls a ""competitive"" salary.


He looked for an apartment in or near Westchester, N.Y., yet balked at paying a third or more of his income in rent. He moved in with his parents in Smithtown, N.Y., near his alma mater, Smithtown West High School.


Because of his long hours, he says, he hasn't been able to help more with household chores.


""I'm spoiled,"" he acknowledged. ""But this situation is very different from the independence I imagined.""


Heaton's mother, Grace, a full-time homemaker, said she realized that others might find it strange that she does the laundry for a 6-foot- 5-inch adult son who has a job. ""I'm calibrating my parental involvement,"" she said. ""Since I'm doing the laundry for the rest of the household, it's just a little more work.


""If he didn't have a job, he'd definitely be doing more around the house,"" she said.


Having lived with two grown daughters in her house, Atwood has succinct advice for someone who has a job and moves back in with parents: ""He needs to figure out a way to get another place to live, so that he's not infantilized.""


She's seen that happen to young men, especially.


""It's difficult for a boy to feel like a man if he has mommy folding his wash,"" she said. If housing is too costly, she added, the family could try to carve out an apartment or other walled-off living quarters for someone who has returned.


""And that means cooking his own meals and doing his own laundry,"" she said.


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(c) 2009, Newsday.


Visit Newsday online at http://www.newsday.com/


Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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Updated November 24, 2021