Thursday, November 17, 2011

Multigenerational Families & the Economy

The recession has hit families hard.  People continue to struggle with weak job and housing markets.  The economic climate and other demographic factors have turned America back into a nation in which families increasingly lean on each other.  To stretch their resources and in some cases avoid poverty, older, middle-age, and young adults are living together under one roof in so called multigenerational families.

The Pew Research Center notes that the Great Recession triggered the “largest increase in the number of Americans living in multigenerational household in modern history.” One in six Americans now lives in such a household.  The number rose from 46.5 million in 2007 to 51.4 million by the end of 2009 -- a 10.5 percent increase in just three years.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center notes, “Living in a multigenerational household appears to be a financial lifeline for many.” Although multigenerational household incomes, adjusted for household size, are lower than incomes in non-multigenerational households, poverty rates are also lower: 11.5 percent among multigenerational households vs. 14.6 percent among non-multigenerational households in 2009.  The role this living arrangement plays in poverty alleviation is even more pronounced among the unemployed where the poverty rate in 2009 was 17.9 percent for those living in multigenerational households compared to 30.3 percent for those in other households.

Statistics like these are striking, but should be accompanied with a disclaimer which notes that the ability for these arrangements to alleviate poverty is limited.  Sharing rising living expenses across generations can make them more manageable, but a finite food budget can only be stretched so far before someone has to go without. Anecdotal evidence suggests that sacrifices are being made, often by older members of the household, to ensure that youngest members are adequately fed and clothed.  Policymakers, employers, foundations and other decision makers need to act now to better support these families.

On December 6th, Generations United will release a report “Family Matters: Multigenerational families in a Volatile Economy.”  It will include information from a new survey of multigenerational families about how they have been affected by the economy and make recommendations designed to better meet their needs.  Join us to for at this National Press Club event to learn more. Register today

This article is the final installment in Generations United’s Blog Series on the Economy

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