Although on screen for less than five minutes, Will Ferrell’s cameo in the 2005 movie Wedding Crashers was extraordinary, forever cementing in our minds the image of what a lazy, unscrupulous adult loser still living at home with his parents looks like.
In one show-stealing scene, Mr. Ferrell’s character, Chazz Reinhold, is sitting on the living-room couch in his bathrobe. It’s the middle of the day, and he has just asked his elderly mother to bring him some meat loaf. Meantime, a friend, played by Owen Wilson, drops by and Chazz asks if he’d like some too. Mr. Wilson’s character, John Beckwith, eventually says yes.
“Hey, ma, the meat loaf,” Chazz screams over his shoulder, in the direction of the kitchen. “We want it now … the meat loaf.”
Young adults living at home with their parents had no chance after that. They would forever be associated with the Chazz Reinholds of the world.
I was reminded of the movie this week while reading the story of the New York judge who ordered a 30-year-old man to move out of his parents’ house. The aging couple had gone to court looking for an eviction notice. The son, Michael Rotondo, argued he was a family member and was therefore entitled to at least six months more time in the split-level rancher.
It didn’t help that Mr. Rotondo cut a sort of sad, unsympathetic figure, with his shoulder-length dark hair and scruffy beard. He was seemingly devoid of any aspirations to leave the family nest to live independently. In a cruel world, it made him an easy target. Unsurprisingly, the case fuelled a fresh wave of hostility toward today’s millennials who are still living with their parents well into their 20s – and early 30s – in record numbers.
“I was living on my own when I was 18. Kids today are pampered beyond belief,” one commentator on the Rotondo story said. Let me summarize the prevailing theme of the responses: Kids today are indolent, entitled, avocado-toast-eating ingrates afraid to go out into the world and get a job. And their parents are encouraging this behaviour by allowing their kids to remain at home, rent- and responsibility-free.
While there are no doubt some contemptible opportunists out there still sucking at the financial teat of their parents and doing little in exchange, that is not the majority of kids in their 20s and 30s still living at home. Not even close. Especially if they live in one of the country’s more expensive markets such as Vancouver and Toronto, they are there because the cost of housing is so bloody expensive and they are more indebted, out of school, than any generation before them.
That is simply a fact.
Young Canadians are $7,000 more in debt (adjusted for inflation) than people graduating university or college in 1976, when the baby boomers were going through the system. And there are simply a lot more people in that position, because more kids are going to postsecondary institutions these days.
We all know about the high costs of housing. In 1976, the average young adult (24-34 years old) needed to save for five years in order to put down 20 per cent on a mortgage. Today, nationally, that’s 13 years. In Ontario, it’s 16 years, unless you live in Greater Toronto, where it’s 22 years. If you live in Metro Vancouver, make that 27 years. This is based on recently updated research compiled by the University of British Columbia.
Kids aren’t earning as much as the boomers did when they were the same age, either.
Our youngest son didn’t leave the house until he was 28. He’d been through law school, had finished his articles and was looking for a job. He had a mountain of debt from his studies, and, without a job, the prospect of finding a cozy one-bedroom basement apartment in downtown Vancouver for $2,200 a month was out of the question.
He didn’t want to be living at home, trust me. He contributed where he could. But we also weren’t going to ding him for $500 a month in rent when he wasn’t making anything. Sorry if that makes us infantilizing parents. I’m happy to say he now has a good job, is living downtown and has launched what I hope will be a successful career.
Variations on that scenario are often more typical of the kids you still find at home today. Not the fictional Chazz Reinholds or the real-life Michael Rotondo.
We seem so eager to dump on today’s young people and I don’t know why. The boomers never had it so good, and to be criticizing a generation confronting obstacles we never faced is not a good look.