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We are so done with jokes about millennials getting help from the Bank of Mom and Dad.

This phrase suggests indulgence, overly involved parenting and entitled young people. But in the pandemic, parents are a financial lifeline for their adult children.

It’s well-documented that members of Gen Z and millennials have been hit hardest by COVID-19 in a financial sense. A poll conducted by the Carrick on Money newsletter in late September provides new details on how parents are helping to keep their adult kids solvent. It’s not just governments that are shovelling money into the economy to keep it afloat. Some parents are doing it, too.

Of the 2,118 parents who participated in the poll, 95 per cent said they provided support of some sort to adult children. A lot of this help reflects the prepandemic trends of fast rising costs for postsecondary tuition and houses. Almost one-third of parents in the poll provided a gift of cash for a home down payment, and 73 per cent helped pay for college or university.

Rents can be expensive in big cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, so some degree of parental help with monthly rental costs is to be expected. But a surprising 38 per cent of parents in the poll were helping their adult kids with rent, a number that seems driven to a significant extent by job and income losses in the pandemic.

An even more telling indicator of young adult financial stress is the fact that 39 per cent of parents said they were helping their adult children pay for groceries. One other common form of parental support is help paying monthly costs such as cellphone bills and car insurance – pretty much half of parents indicated they’re doing this.

Parents who helped us with the poll were able to select more than one type of support. Just over 5 per cent ticked all of the following boxes: Help paying for college or university, help with monthly rent, help with groceries, help with other monthly costs such as cellphone bills or car insurance. We also heard from parents who are providing mental-health support to their adult children.

Financial support for adult children does seem to be a package deal. Just 2.6 per cent of parents indicated that they provided only a gift of money for a house down payment, while 3.5 per cent ticked only the box for helping with postsecondary tuition.

The parental support poll was done to prepare for an episode of the coming second season of Stress Test, the personal finance podcast I co-host with Globe and Mail personal finance editor Roma Luciw. We’re also looking at stats like the ones found in the financial hardship reports produced over the past eight months by TransUnion, a credit reporting company.

For example, 55 per cent of Gen Z and millennials said early last month that the pandemic had an impact on their finances, compared with 37 per cent for baby boomers and 51 per cent for Gen Xers. In an April hardship report, 25 per cent of people affected by the pandemic reported they had lost their job. That compared with 38 per cent for Gen Z specifically and 34 per cent for millennials.

Young adults had their challenges before the pandemic as a result of the growth of the gig economy (temporary contracts over full-time jobs), rising tuition costs, expensive houses and, in some cities, elevated rent payments. The pandemic is a setback for this demographic that could last longer than the health risk of COVID-19 itself because of slow economic growth. Not too long ago, the Bank of Canada said it’s unlikely that its benchmark lending rate will rise from basement levels until 2023.

High levels of parental financial support for adult children is not something we talk about much, but it’s happening all around us and can now officially be deemed normal. It’s the pandemic and it’s the economy. It’s not any particular trait of today’s youth.

Accepting this doesn’t help on the financial side of things, though. Years ago, parents could count on a steady decline in child-related costs from the baby/toddler stage through to graduation, when kids more easily found employment of some sort. Today, parents may feel the need to assist their adult kids well into their 20s and even 30s.

Continued parental support has a cost in retirement savings and lifestyle. And that emergency fund you’re supposed to have in case of an unexpected setback? For parents, these savings are as much a hedge against their children’s financial difficulties as their own.

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