Taking off to live and work in Australia felt like an adventure, not a risk, to Mary Kraemer. After graduating from college, she’d worked in IT for four years, paid off her school loan and hatched a dream to live internationally.
“I wanted a big change, to experience a different culture,” said Kraemer, 27, who arrived in Brisbane last May on a one-year work visa.
Now Kraemer is back in the St. Louis Park house where she grew up.
In mid-March, she abruptly cut her stay short, bought a one-way ticket and raced home as the global pandemic tightened its grip.
“It was a hard call, but I was afraid they would close the airport and I could get stuck,” she said. “In a worst-case situation, I figured it would be easier to be with my family.”
An army of disoriented young Minnesotans are stunned to find themselves once again staying with their parents, bunking in their childhood bedrooms or unpacked in the basement.
These reluctant prodigals were launched: They were finding their footing and building careers in an expanding employment market that boasted more positions than candidates.
But almost overnight, the economy went from red hot to ice cold. Their jobs evaporated and their prospects dimmed and, as Robert Frost wrote, they looked to home — “the place where when you go there, they have to take you in.”
A Pew Research Center poll taken April 7-12 found Americans between ages 18 and 29 hit hardest by the downturn, with 35% experiencing job losses and another 45% having their wages slashed. Young people are disproportionately represented in industries hit hardest — retail, business services, hospitality. With college debt, stagnant wages and high housing costs, many lack the financial cushion it would take to remain independent.
“People under 30 or so — the youngest millennials and the oldest of Generation Z, which follows them — came of age in the aftermath and uncertainty of the recession,” said Jack Mackinnon, who studies young adults as a senior principal analyst for Gartner, a global advisory firm.
“They saw their parents worry about jobs and homes, and it left an indelible image that the world is unpredictable,” he said. “They have wanted to be prepared for the next collapse. But it’s hard for them that the space between these two economic cycles has been so short.”
The under-30 groups also are unique in another, more positive way: They have strong, close bonds with their parents.
“They’ve always had a seat at the table, sharing their opinions and included in family decisionmaking,” Mackinnon said. “It doesn’t surprise me that their parents have an open-door policy.”
That policy means an adjustment for parents, as well.
Kraemer’s mom and dad went from being empty nesters to having both Mary and their college-aged son suddenly under their roof. Now the four of them spend evenings playing board games, sometimes left with the feeling that time backtracked to a blizzard weekend of a decade ago.
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but I love having them around,” admitted her mother, Kathy. “I know other parents in the same boat; we feel sorry for the kids; they were just getting going.”
With Mary home, Kathy isn’t as concerned about her daughter’s health — or her long-term prospects.
“I’m not worried Mary is going to be with us forever. She’s here now and she’s safe.”
Being at home offers some measure of reassurance during this disruptive time, but it’s not a panacea.
“Young adults are trying to figure out what’s next, how will they cope. The swiftness of this comedown makes it difficult,” said Jason Clopton, a psychotherapist intern who works with children and young adults and hosts “The Teen Whisperer” podcast. “They don’t even know what to call what they are feeling.”
Parents should understand that their returning offspring might be grieving, confused and angry about “having the rug pulled out from under them” or feel guilty or bitter over their setbacks, Clopton said.
He warns parents who want to bolster their children’s spirits to realize that they can only be so empathetic.
“You can’t say, ‘I know what you’re going through, I feel for you.’ When you were their age, you didn’t go through anything like this,” he said. “I tell parents to provide the space so they can have their feelings. Say, ‘I’m here to help if you need it.’ ”
A landing spot
In the feast-and-famine world of freelance work, Tricia Towey was preparing for a long-awaited banquet. A Minnesota native who gigged in commercial television in New Orleans for the past eight years, Towey had lined up three months of work as a camera assistant for a series of Food Network shows and specials.
The shooting was just beginning when production stopped and the soundstage was shuttered, putting Towey, 31, at a career crossroads.
“My brain went into hurricane evacuation mode: ‘What’s my backup plan?’ ‘How can we get out of here?’ I didn’t want to get stuck in a state where the health care system is already fragile.”
When a stay-at-home order was issued by the mayor, Towey’s wife, Clementine Finlay, lost her retail job abruptly. Within days, the couple rented a Budget truck, loaded up their possessions and two dogs and headed north.
“Clementine and I knew New Orleans was not sustainable for us. We had planned to move eventually,” Towey said. “It’s embarrassing to be back with my parents but we are very privileged to have that landing spot.”
From the guest bedroom, Towey is keeping busy by collaborating with a few dozen other independent filmmakers on a documentary called “COVID POV” and trying to envision what will come next.
“The plan is vague but we’re both looking into classes to get jobs that would allow us to work online,” Towey said. “I’m interested in user experience design and Clementine is thinking about library IT. We will be able to make a life here. I’m ready to be a Minnesotan. I don’t think I ever stopped.”
Both sides now
The door on a family home swings both ways, as Dan and Kelsey Callahan have learned.
The father/daughter duo are both working from home in Dan’s Lakeville townhouse, but it was a sense of duty that led to her return.
“It’s just a few months in a crazy time,” said Kelsey, 31, who works in accounting. “You make decisions for the people you love in your life.”
Even before the pandemic, the year 2020 had shaken the family. Brenda Callahan, Kelsey’s mother and Dan’s wife, died of a heart attack at age 59. Just four days before Brenda’s death, Dan had ankle surgery and was unable to put any weight on his foot for weeks.
“I was already staying here, walking the dogs and helping him out,” Kelsey said. “When the shutdown started, I had the choice to be at my place and stay away from Dad for his safety or be in his household and stay away from everyone else. That’s what I decided to do.”
While she kept the lease on her apartment, Kelsey, one of four Callahan children, has only gone back to grab a few things and water her plants. Now the two of them are round-the-clock companions, working their way through the Marvel superhero movies and cooking together, with Kelsey “pushing my vegan agenda on him.”
“I’m so lucky,” Dan said. “I don’t want to take over her life, but I’m glad for her company. We will never forget this time.”
It’s hard to know how long the shutdown and the economic repercussions will be with us. But they’re likely to have a lasting effect.
“When young adults have to put their independence and careers on hold, that causes them to see the world differently and see themselves differently,” said Clopton. “But our young adults are resilient. We are a resilient nation.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.