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A millennial housing story - living at home and loving it

SUN HERALD

Brandon Oakes works 50 hours a week, earns A's and B's at William Carey University and still sleeps in the same bedroom he's been in since fourth grade.

Oakes, 23, like many other millennials, lives at home with his parents.

For the first time in modern history, in fact, living with parents has overtaken other living arrangements for 18- to 34-year-olds, according to a Pew Research Center report released last week and reported on by Tara Bahrampour in the Washington Post.

In 2014, Bahrampour reported, 32.1 percent of young adults lived in their parents' homes, edging out all other living arrangements including marriage or cohabitation, living alone, or living as single parents or with roommates.

Decline in settling down

The Post said the change is fueled by a steep decline in the proportion of young Americans settling down romantically over the past 50 years.

Since 1880, when the Census Bureau started keeping track, the most common arrangement for young people was to live with a spouse or significant other, the newspaper said. That peaked in 1960, when 62 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds did so. Now, that number has fallen by half -- just 31.6 percent live with a romantic partner.

"For earlier generations of young Americans, one of the major activities that they were focused on was partnering, forming a new family, maybe with children," study author Richard Fry said in the Post story. "For the first time, instead what we see is they're not focused on family and forming a household."

Rather, they are more likely to be tending to studies and work, hoping to earn and save enough to move out on their own.

For Oakes, it's a matter of convenience and economic stability. As a bouncer at Hard Rock Casino for the past two years, Oakes sometimes doesn't clock out until the wee hours of the morning before heading to the home he shares with his dad and stepmom in Gulfport.

His agreement with his dad: free room and board in exchange for good grades in college. His dad also pays his cell bill and makes sure Waffles, Oakes' French bulldog, eats breakfast.

"The deal was if I stayed in school he'd help me out with my bills," Oakes said.

Their living arrangement just kind of happened, he said. When his parents split up long before his teen years, he lived with his father and stayed there even when his dad remarried. Then his dad divorced when he was in 10th grade. When it was time for college, he decided to live at home.

"I didn't want to leave him behind and leave him in the house alone, so I just stayed at home with him," he said.

He went to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College's Jefferson Davis campus first, then transferred to William Carey on the Coast.

"It saves a lot of money," he said.

They were two bachelors hanging out. Then his father remarried about three years ago.

'Not in a rush'

Oakes has dated, but he's single at the moment and not looking for a serious relationship. He'll finish with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in August and then plans to pursue a master's degree. His goals are to teach at a community college and eventually become a criminal investigator, then find a home of his own.

"But I'm not in a rush at the moment," he said.

He plans to stay put as long as he can. He watched his friends move out and back in like their parents' homes had revolving doors.

"I saw them move out and try to do everything on their own, but the economy is so bad it was hard to do it," he said. "That sounds like a waste to me."

Working plan

That plan is working for other Coast millennials.

Megan Stockstill will be 20 in August and still lives with her parents in Leetown, a small community between Picayune and Kiln. She graduated with an associate's degree in accounting, but is going back to school to study instrumentation. She'll be done with that technical program within two years, then plans on a bachelor's degree in accounting followed by a master's.

Then she'll start working, "so I can actually get out of my parents' house and get my own house and get a new vehicle," she said.

It was her parents' suggestion that Stockstill, an only child, remain at home. Her father preferred that school be her priority, not paying rent to live there.

"Just as long as I went to school," she said. "And If I didn't go to school, I'd have to get a job."

Her father also believes in owning a home rather than renting, and his daughter is socking away money for that. Living at home lets her save for a down payment.

Her savings is growing at a trickle right now, but when she finishes school and works a while, she'll be able to put much more away. Without her parents' support and housing, she'd need to get a job immediately to pay for college and her expenses, which would leave her little time for study or money for savings.

Though she doesn't pay rent, she helps with household chores because both of her parents work full-time jobs.

"(The arrangement) works for us, completely," she said. "It's like a mutual agreement between us, so I'm not freeloading. I'm holding up my end and taking care of the house and whatnot while they work."

Mom is her best buddy

Holly Schankin's mother has become her best buddy and her roommate. Her father died six years ago, just as the Gulfport woman was headed to Southern Miss. When she graduated, she moved back home to live with her mother.

At 26, she's an entrepreneur, operating a home-based printing business. She designs and prints T-shirts and paper products such as invitations and announcements.

She graduated from USM with a degree in public relations, then took a job as a teacher at D'Iberville Elementary, where her mother works, for three years.

She'd wanted to buy a house, but didn't have adequate cash flow so she moved back into her mother's home. That's where she runs her business.

Her plan is to live with her mother while she saves for her own home. She's "slowly unraveling" her plan, she said.

"I feel like I'm am old enough and it's time for me to branch out. I'm just kind of staying as long as I can and as long as she is OK with me staying."

Schankin has dated, but no one steady, unlike her mother who is just starting a relationship. That could speed up Schankin's plan a bit.

"I just feel like it's time to start moving on and looking for places, but she's not pressuring me at all," she said.

Friends don't understand

Some of her friends don't understand why she is still single and living at home.

"Most of my friends are married and have children. I'm just a little behind on that," she said. "I'm taking it one day at a time until I figure out what I want to do."

Fry's report shows Oakes, Stockstill and Schankin are not unusual.

According to the Post story, the big reason millennials still live at home is a decline in economic opportunities. As the cost of living has escalated and wages have stagnated, the newspaper said, young people face mounting student debt and daunting barriers to renting or owning a home, creating obstacles to cohabitation and marriage.

Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociology professor told the Post the study signals an important demographic milestone.

"I see this as part of an overall trend in an increase in family diversity and decline in the nuclear family household," he said.

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