Source: U.S. Census Bureau's 2015 American Community Survey
After high school, children used to go to college, graduate in four years, get a job, and then get married or find an apartment -- sometimes alone, sometimes with roommates.
Today, in New Jersey and 18 other states, the norm is for adult children to come back to the nest to live, maybe for a long time.
Close to half of all New Jerseyans aged 18 to 34 were living with a parent or parents in 2015, according to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The more than 870,000 New Jersey young adults -- about 47 percent of all those 18 to 34-year-olds -- living with their mothers and fathers give the state the dubious distinction of being first in the nation on a measure that probably makes neither particularly happy. Connecticut had the second-largest proportion -- almost 42 percent. Nationally, just over a third of those aged 18-34 live in their parents' home.
"Clearly, we are ahead of the nation," said James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. "I'm not surprised."
Hughes cited a number of factors responsible for the state's high ranking. The state's recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 has lagged the rest of the nation, average student loan debt is greater than the national average, and housing costs are higher; the state ranks in the top five in the nation in the median spent monthly for housing by both owners and renters.
"It's a combination of weaker job opportunities, higher student debts, and higher housing costs," and in particular, a lack of affordable rental housing, Hughes said. "On the upside, most parents are overly generous with their children, letting them live at home for nothing or a modest fee. This gives them greater purchasing power."
For Kevin Walsh, executive director of the Cherry Hill-based Fair Share Housing Center, most of the blame rests on the lack of affordable homes and apartments in the state. "We do not have enough homes in New Jersey because municipalities prevent starter homes and apartments from being built. These statistics prove it," Walsh said.
"New Jersey municipalities systematically excluded all but the wealthy for the past two decades. Their policies have made New Jersey one of the most expensive states in the country ... Thirty-year-olds living in the attic and families denied opportunities show we are going backwards as a state.”
"It's a perfect storm of being a high cost state with a laggard recovery, too many people paid low wages, and not enough affordable housing," said Jon Whiten, vice president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive think tank based in Trenton. "New Jersey remains stuck." Income and poverty have been virtually stagnant so far this decade, proof of the state's slow recovery, other new census data shows.
The median household income in the state rose only three-tenths of 1 percent in real, inflation-adjusted dollars between 2014 and 2015, to an average of $72,222. While New Jersey still has one of the highest median incomes in the nation, the one-year increase was the smallest of the 50 states and well below the national average rise of 3.8 percent. Since 2011, household income is up just 1.5 percent, when adjusted for inflation.
Slow income growth and high housing costs "make it very, very hard for young people to form their own households and move out of their parents' domiciles," said Hughes.
While the proportion of New Jerseyans living in poverty -- 10.8 percent in 2015 -- remained below the national average of 14.7 percent, it declined by a smaller percentage over the previous year than in the United States as a whole, with a 0.3 percentage point drop in New Jersey, compared with a 0.8 percentage drop for the nation. And New Jersey's poverty rate last year was slightly higher than in 2011, when it was 10.4 percent, although the census deems this difference statistically insignificant.
The official poverty rate has little meaning in the high-cost state of New Jersey, where a family of four could earn significantly more than the national threshold of $24,250 and still struggle to afford food, clothing, and shelter.
The U.S Census Bureau has developed a supplemental poverty measure that considers items in addition to mere cash income and adjusts for such geographic differences as the cost of housing. According to this measure, averaged over three years from 2013 through 2015, 15.1 percent of New Jerseyans were in poverty, the same proportion as in the nation as a whole. The difference between the two measures is significant: the official poverty measure estimates 946,000 people in the state are poor, while the supplemental measure puts that number at 1.34 million.
A host of other factors, some social and some economic, come into play in keeping young adults at home. More and more, college students are taking longer to graduate, which contributes -- along with ever-increasing college costs -- to higher debt loads. Once they get out of school, some are still having a hard time finding a good job. More young adults are choosing not to marry or are delaying marriage, although experts say part of the reason for that is because they don't have enough money to start a family.
In nine counties, more than half of 18-34-year-olds were living at home. Hunterdon County, which had the highest median income and fourth highest housing costs, led all counties, with an estimated 61 percent living with their parents. By far the smallest percentage was in Hudson County, where little more than a quarter of 18-34-year-olds were living at home. Hudson also has by far the largest proportion of rental housing stock, with about seven of 10 units rented rather than owned.
Two counties had median household incomes of more than $100,000, with neither Hunterdon nor Morris seeing a statistically significant change from 2014 to 2015. The lowest income in 2015 was $51,315 in Cumberland County, but that was more than 13 percent higher than a year earlier.