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The Case of ‘Boomerang’ Kids

  • Joe Amanatidis, of Fairlee, Vt., lives at home with his parents because he is working two jobs to pay off his college debt and the mortgage on his Fairlee ice cream stand.Amanatidis was working an afternoon shift at the stand on July 17, 2014. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Joe Amanatidis, of Fairlee, Vt., lives at home with his parents because he is working two jobs to pay off his college debt and the mortgage on his Fairlee ice cream stand.Amanatidis was working an afternoon shift at the stand on July 17, 2014. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

  • Joe Amanatidis, of Fairlee, takes an order at his ice cream stand in Fairlee, Vt. Amanatidis lives at home with his parents because he is working two jobs to pay off his college debt and the mortgage on his ice cream stand.Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Joe Amanatidis, of Fairlee, takes an order at his ice cream stand in Fairlee, Vt. Amanatidis lives at home with his parents because he is working two jobs to pay off his college debt and the mortgage on his ice cream stand.Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

  • Joe Amanatidis, of Fairlee, Vt., lives at home with his parents because he is working two jobs to pay off his college debt and the mortgage on his Fairlee ice cream stand.Amanatidis was working an afternoon shift at the stand on July 17, 2014. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Joe Amanatidis, of Fairlee, takes an order at his ice cream stand in Fairlee, Vt. Amanatidis lives at home with his parents because he is working two jobs to pay off his college debt and the mortgage on his ice cream stand.Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Fairlee — As he celebrated his 24th birthday last month, Joe Amanatidis had plenty to be proud of.

During his years at Merrimack College, in an affluent Boston suburb, the Fairlee native studied abroad in Italy, spending a semester in Rome and Florence before earning his bachelor’s degree in international business in 2012.

By his freshman year, he was a small-business owner, returning to his hometown in the summers to operate Joey’s Scoops ice cream stand next to Wing’s Market. Since graduation, he’s gotten a good-paying job at a financial software company, working 40 hours a week.

To recap: A useful degree from a good school, a decent job, experience managing a business …

And, by the way, he also lives with his parents, in the same home where he had slept from elementary school through his 2008 graduation from Rivendell Academy.

“It’s definitely nice to live at home and have the people you love around you,” Amanatidis said on a recent sunny day, sitting at a picnic table outside Joey’s Scoops.

But, he acknowledged: “Some days, it’s not so nice.”

Amanatidis could be called a “boomerang kid,” the catchy term often used to describe young adults who move back in with their parents — returning like a boomerang to a home and a lifestyle that they had left in search of independence years ago. Boomerang kids can move back in with their folks for any number of reasons, but the trend is often associated with young adults burdened by significant college debt.

“Here is part of a phenomenon that began slowly more than three decades ago, accelerated during the recession and has continued into an uneven recovery,” The Washington Post reported recently. “It is now more common for young adults to live with multiple generations of relatives than it is for those 85 or older, traditionally the group most likely to live with family members.”

A study by the Pew Research Center found a record 57 million Americans, or 18.1 percent of the country, lived in multi-generational family households in 2012, double the number from 1980. Young adults, the study found, “have been a major component of the growth in the population” living with multiple generations in the past 30 years.

By 2012, the study found, nearly a quarter of young adults ages 25 to 34, lived in multi-generational households, up from about a fifth in 2007 and a tenth in 1980.

Anne Duncan Cooley, executive director at the Upper Valley Housing Coalition, said she’s heard, anecdotally, of a wide range of families taking in boomerang kids in the Upper Valley, and she’s hopeful the region is at the end of the trend.

“My sense is that the recession made this a much more common practice because it was much more difficult financially to move out on your own,” Duncan Cooley said. “A lot of people came back, not just to live with parents but family members of all kinds for financial reasons.

“Student loans … can be a really huge part of it. You do the math and with student loans potentially taking hundreds of dollars a month, it makes it really hard to save up a deposit and afford an apartment all by yourself.”

While journalists and statisticians examine the phenomenon, there often is little that is phenomenal about individuals’ reasons for moving back in with their parents.

In Amanatidis’ case, he said, the living arrangement comes not entirely out of necessity, but more out of sensibility. Why pay rent — at $600, $700, $800 a month or, sometimes, much more — when living at home is free, and many, if not most, of his friends are doing the same?

Especially, he said, when his own successes have come with a price tag: a monthly mortgage on the ice cream shop of about $280, and student loans in the area of $800 a month, which he estimates he’ll be paying well into his 30s.

“It just makes sense to me. … If I had to pay rent, I would have been screwed,” he said. “It’s just frustrating. You get out of school” and want to move on to new things, but the debt means “just postponing that type of stuff until later in life.”

Indeed, Amanatidis finds the debt itself to be a greater source of stress than the fact that he’s living at home. When he took out the loans at age 17, he said, he had no concept of what he was doing.

He remembers thinking, “You’re telling me that if I say ‘yes’ (to these documents) I can go to college?” At the time, he viewed the loan material as “made-up numbers” that “just don’t even make sense.”

Now, “I’ve tried to actively not put a number” on the cumulative student loan debt, he said. And while he wouldn’t trade his college experience, he still wishes he had a better understanding of what it would mean down the line.

He’s looking into the feasibility of moving to the Seacoast with a friend, but will do it only if the numbers add up.

“It’s so stressful,” he said of the monthly bills. “I’m not entirely sure how I do it.”

Amanatidis’ mother, Leda, whose family owns and operates Leda’s Pizza down the street from Joey’s Scoops, said the closeness that comes from running a family-owned restaurant means family members are always there for each other — even if it means taking another one back into the nest.

“You have to be there for your kids,” she said. “If dad is short-handed (running the restaurant), we know how to watch each other’s backs.”

What’s more, she said, virtually everyone she talks to, from co-workers to friends to other family members, also have boomerang kids living at home with them — or else the family is subsidizing the child’s rent to live elsewhere.

“It’s almost a rarity” to have a child get a job right out of college and find an apartment on his or her own, she said.

In addition to the economic effects of the boomerang phenomenon, including what Duncan Cooley called a pent-up demand in the housing market that could soon flood the market, there can be mental and emotional effects as well.

Dr. Mary Schneider, a clinical psychologist at Upper Valley-based Deer Creek Psychological Associates, whose clients include adolescents transitioning into young adulthood, said parents and children should understand the potential effects, which vary depending on factors such as family dynamics and living arrangements. Boomerang kids, she said, can sometimes “stall out” and become depressed because they feel they are not moving forward. Parents, meanwhile, who may have adjusted to having some privacy, have a hard time understanding their young adult child’s emotions.

“Some people will be able to rise above that and be industrious and fight the odds and keep plugging away,” Schneider said, “and for some of them, the moral support of being at home can give them encouragement. I would say for more of them, it’s a strain on both sides.”

She suggested that parents and children seek help from trained therapists if they’re feeling overwhelmed so that they can learn strategies to address the problem and become more aware of what’s going on.

For Leda Amanatidis, the biggest strain she’s encountered with boomerang kids over the years is preparing dinners — and not knowing how many children, and their friends, will show up — or not.

“The things that bothers me the most about having them there is the meal planning,” she said, smiling. “But if that’s the worst of it …”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.