Working Full-Time, but Still Relying on Mom and Dad for Support

Nearly half of college graduates in a University of Arizona study rely on parents for financial support, even when working full-time.

National Journal
Nancy Cook
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Nancy Cook
June 24, 2014, 6:54 a.m.

When Lo­gan Robin­son gradu­ated from the Uni­versity of Ari­zona in 2012 with a de­gree in chem­ic­al en­gin­eer­ing, he found a job pretty quickly as a en­gin­eer for a ma­jor pet-food com­pany. Yet, he still en­countered a fin­an­cial hic­cup that he didn’t an­ti­cip­ate — the start-up costs of liv­ing on his own, in­clud­ing trans­port­a­tion, rent­ing an apart­ment, and fur­nish­ing it. “I didn’t have a car and didn’t have any sav­ings,” he says. “I had to get a cred­it card and ac­quire a de­cent amount of debt.”

Maria Calendo, a 2011 Uni­versity of Ari­zona gradu­ate, ex­per­i­enced a sim­il­ar fin­an­cial “Ah-ha” mo­ment when she faced the dif­fi­culty of build­ing up a nest egg even with a full-time job at Liberty Mu­tu­al In­sur­ance. “When I get money saved up, something al­ways hap­pens,” she says — a med­ic­al emer­gency with her dog, the cost of a plane tick­et for a fam­ily mem­ber’s fu­ner­al, money she needs to at­tend vari­ous friends’ wed­dings. “These costs come up. It’s un­for­tu­nate.”

Then there’s Ali Freed­man, who moved home to Tuc­son months after she gradu­ated from col­lege and her fath­er passed away. “I thought it would be easy to find a job,” she says, re­mem­ber­ing liv­ing with her moth­er. She hoped to find a teach­ing po­s­i­tion but in­stead ended up work­ing part-time at Crate and Bar­rel and the Cheese­cake Fact­ory. Even­tu­ally, Freed­man de­cided to take out a vari­ety of loans to en­roll in a mas­ter’s teach­ing pro­gram at the loc­al uni­versity. It seemed like the only way for her to pur­sue her chosen ca­reer path.

These are just some of the stor­ies of re­cent col­lege gradu­ates, em­bed­ded in the latest res­ults of a mul­ti­year Uni­versity of Ari­zona study that’s try­ing to doc­u­ment the way young people de­vel­op fin­an­cial know-how. The ul­ti­mate goal of the lon­git­ud­in­al re­search is to de­vel­op a bet­ter meth­od to teach fin­an­cial edu­ca­tion based on the way teen­agers and twentyso­methings es­tab­lish ac­tu­al habits. “If we look at how these be­ha­vi­ors are formed, we have a bet­ter chance of in­ter­cept­ing them,” Joyce Serido, one of the study’s primary re­search­ers and an as­sist­ant pro­fess­or at the Uni­versity of Ari­zona, told Na­tion­al Journ­al back in May. 

The new res­ults of the study mark the fourth time over the last six years that Serido has in­ter­viewed the same pool of young adults. This time, roughly 1,000 of them par­ti­cip­ated in the sur­vey, which looked ex­tens­ively at their trans­ition from col­lege to ca­reers. Among the most sur­pris­ing find­ings was the de­gree to which young adults (even those em­ployed full-time) still rely on their fam­il­ies for fin­an­cial as­sist­ance. Many also face moun­tains of stu­dent debt, av­er­aging $22,725 in un­der­gradu­ate loans. “The trans­ition to adult­hood for this age group is markedly dif­fer­ent than it was for pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions,” Serido says. “When people are work­ing full-time and still re­ly­ing on their par­ents for sup­port, that’s a de­vel­op­ment that to me is bad.”

A deep­er dive in­to the study’s res­ults show:

  • Fifty per­cent of those sur­veyed say they rely on fin­an­cial as­sist­ance from their fam­il­ies to cov­er ex­penses, even though nearly half of these people are em­ployed full-time.
  • Young adults with a steady job and low levels of debt re­port that life sat­is­fac­tion and fin­an­cial well-be­ing is much high­er than par­ti­cipants with part-time or no work, or con­sid­er­able debt. Young adults with debt (even those with full-time jobs) say that they are 17 per­cent less sat­is­fied with their fin­an­cial well-be­ing than their peers with no debt; they also re­port that they were less sat­is­fied with their lives broadly. The takeaway? Debt, from stu­dent loans or oth­er­wise, weighs heav­ily on the psyche of today’s young adults.
  • Fin­an­cial in­de­pend­ence is also less im­port­ant to this group as it ages. In an earli­er wave of the study, 95 per­cent of stu­dents rated fin­an­cial in­de­pend­ence as an im­port­ant goal. That fig­ure now clocks in at 91 per­cent.
  • Fi­nally, none of the young adults ex­press any rush to hit the tra­di­tion­al mark­ers of adult­hood like mar­riage, homeown­er­ship, or rais­ing chil­dren. Twenty-eight per­cent of the 1,000 stu­dents sur­veyed say that mar­riage is not an im­port­ant life goal for them, fol­lowed by 27 per­cent who say the same about hav­ing chil­dren. 

Serido hopes that her long-term re­search will con­vince edu­cat­ors and poli­cy­makers to re­think their tired no­tions of teach­ing per­son­al fin­ance and to in­stead cast it as every­day, prac­tic­al life skill — not just something that be­comes ne­ces­sary when a per­son sud­denly ex­per­i­ences a wind­fall, or in­her­its a port­fo­lio to man­age. “It used to be that fin­an­cial edu­ca­tion or fin­an­cial lit­er­acy was only something you needed when you had re­sources to pro­tect,” she says about the older mod­els of fin­an­cial-lit­er­acy edu­ca­tion, many of which have failed. “The mes­sage in­stead has to be that fin­an­cial lit­er­acy is something every­one needs. People have to be aware of the re­sources they have and what they’ll need to sup­port the life­style they want.”

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