My life as a boomeranger

A good education stopped being the finish line, says Cassie Owens.

Story highlights

  • Pew poll says 39% of young adults are living with or have moved back with their parents
  • Cassie Owens: I moved back home without a clear vision of my career path or prospects
  • She says entry-level jobs are hard to get and many of her peers must look for alternatives
  • Owens: The road to self-reliance appears stretched out for her generation

When I moved back home, I knew what I was in for. My mother tends to nag me. She can't help it. Fussing is in her nature, and her recent battles with fibromyalgia and a spinal injury have not been easy on her nerves. She is uncompromisingly neat, a characteristic that I have not inherited. My room is what she fusses about most. My junk reminds her that my return wasn't something we planned.

I graduated from college in 2009. After traveling for a year on a Fulbright scholarship, I came home to my mother without a clear vision of my career path, let alone prospects afoot.

According to a recent Pew poll, 39% of 18- to 34-year-olds are living with their parents or have moved back in with their parents temporarily because of the sluggish economy. Sixty-three percent of 18- to 34-year-olds know someone who has moved back home. These numbers don't surprise me.

My generation has been called the "boomerangers," meaning that young people like me and my friends are nesting with our folks again when we are expected to be independent.

Cassie Owens

Moving back home has not been easy to swallow. It's more than adjusting to life under the watchful gaze of parents. It's more than feeling anxious about finances. After spending my adolescence stressing out over AP classes and college admissions, then dealing with the rigors of university course work, I doffed my graduation cap only to find that somewhere along the line a good education stopped being the finish line. Facing the job market unsuccessfully has sent me back to the drawing board.

We boomerangers have a lot to contemplate. First, we must decide whether to settle for an occupation less than ideal or pursue interests that we genuinely love but may not be as economically rewarding, at least in the short term. My mother's support has enabled me to do the latter.

After coming home, I started to intern at a local newspaper and applied to journalism graduate schools. With extra time on my hands, I also began to intern at R&B Records, a nearby music store. The owner, Val Shively, has more than 4 million 45s, spanning the genre from the Orioles to the lesser Jacksons. He and a lone employee, Chuck, are walking encyclopedias of the rhythm and blues tradition. When I'm at the store, I mostly bask in their knowledge, sort picture sleeves and take notes. The experience has placed me knee-deep into a research project on Philadelphia's music history.

My friends' stories are similar in some ways. With entry-level positions more difficult to acquire, many boomerangers are forced to look for alternatives. Most of my friends are pursuing internships or graduate study. And still, we wonder: Will this be enough?

My cousin Evon juggles two internships at training and development centers along with a third internship at a radio station. He is pursuing a career in publicity, but through his excursion into radio has started to develop a programming portfolio. Arniece, a young woman I went to high school with, took over her family's kitchen last summer in search of the perfect pound cake recipe. She's now planning to get her bakery, Pound of Cake, off the ground. My friend Gabriel searched fruitlessly for a job in advertising before spending two years as a line cook, only to find himself as a visual resources coordinator in the special collections of university libraries. While my friends and I have enjoyed our experiences, the current job market has brought a feeling of uncertainty, which has been unsettling.

In 2009, a record number of high school students enrolled in colleges. While it is good news that more Americans are getting a higher education, it also means that competition among young graduates is intensifying. We're left to ponder how to get a leg up. As we vie for the same internships and graduate programs, we expect that our student loan debt will become deeper. Who's to say when we'll be able to afford our starter houses?

I can attest that many of my peers are taking time to hone their skills. I've watched them carve out niches for themselves, through internships and sheer will. I would say that my friends are all more enriched individuals. But the uncertainty still lingers. With the changing times, the road to self-reliance and success appears stretched out.

Fortunately, the end of my boomerang season is in sight. Come autumn, I'll be enrolled in graduate school. My mother and I are both excited. She's thrilled that she'll finally have my room in order. I'm thrilled that soon I'll get to make a room of my own.

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