Growing up, I fantasized on a daily basis about moving out. I wanted to be my own person, never have to share a room, and be far away as possible from the hustle and bustle of the overcrowded two-bedroom I grew up in. It can be a lot of pressure for a kid living in two worlds—the American one and the Salvadoran one. American society preaches individualism, liberty, “pulling yourself from your bootstraps,” while the one I’m being taught at home by my immigrant parents values tight-knit families (with a little bit of co-dependence), collectivism, and building community.
But I latched on to the dream of one day living on my own. It was probably one of the motivating factors for getting good grades, going to college, and “making it.” As a teenager I had plenty of arguments with my parents that would end with me saying, “When I turn 18, I’m moving out! That’s how American kids do it! You wait and see!” (Then I’d slam the door closed to the room I shared with my brothers..and occasionally also with an aunt or grandmother)
But hard times always made it hard for that dream to come to fruition. College was too expensive, rents are always too damn high in Los Angeles, and the family always needed the extra financial assistance. After graduating from undergrad, I promised myself that I would finally save up and be independent. But again, it was hard when you aren’t making too much money as an organizer. Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” was constantly on my mind. At 23, I finally made it happen, and I never looked back. Leaving home caused quite the shake-up in my family, both in LA and in San Salvador. The idea of a single woman moving out was scandalous, even in 2006, for two reasons: (a) when you come from a poor family, no one EVER moves out, and (b) the idea of a woman making out on her own where there’s always tough economic times is unfathomable. I was the first one that actually did it.
My oldest sister, shortly after getting married and having my nephew, had to move back in, and to this day she still lives at home. My other sister had to move back in during the recession with my two nieces, and my brother has yet to make it out of the house. Their struggle to live independently continues to have profound impact on my life. But this is stuff that poor people grapple with all the time, and thanks to the Great Recession, the conversation around multi-generational households has re-emerged since this is now affecting most of us. Older parents are moving in with their children, and vice-versa. Grandparents taking care of grandchildren, and maybe even great-grandchildren. Out-of-work graduates moving back home after years of living on their own.
According to the most recent figures released by the US Census’ American Community Survey (ACS), approximately 5.3 percent (4.3 million) of Americans multi-generational households in , up from 3.7 percent in 2000. Most states exceeding the national average are in the South and the West. In California, over 8 percent of residents live in multi-generational households. While only 3.8 percent of multi-generational families are White (with a slight increase during the recession), those figures are double, and almost triple for African-Americans, Asians, and Latino households. The real question is: How to we create a society where people take care of each other AND reach financial independence?
For starters, people cannot make ends meet, especially when wages have remained stagnant over the last several years and costs have continued to increase. In Los Angeles, a single parent would have to work three full-time jobs, or earn $30.52 an hour, in order to provide for two children.
Source: Insight: Center for Community Economic Development
And what about other factors that provide financial security for workers and their families, such as unemployment insurance, retirement, social security, disability? With tighter local and state budgets, sequestration at the federal level, and sluggish job creation, the ability for people to be financially independent is growing further and further out of reach.
Do you know what it takes for people in your community to be self-sufficient?
Check out Wider Opportunities for Women’s (WOW) Economic Security Database.