Unemployment rates increased 55% among 18- to 34-year-olds from 2006 to 2011, says a new analysis that sheds more light on just how hard the recession hit young workers.
The report, which analyzes Census data by young people's living arrangements, shows - perhaps not surprisingly - the highest jobless rates are among young men who live with their parents rather than on their own.
One-quarter of young men ages 18 to 24 and one-fifth of those 25 to 34 who lived with their parents didn't have a job in 2011, says the report, from the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, in Bowling Green, Ohio.
But researchers don't know which came first - living at home or being unemployed.
"Are they doing worse because they're living in their parents' household or are they living in their parents' household because they are doing worse?" says lead author Krista Payne, a social science data analyst at the center. "We don't know."
"It might suggest that living in your parents' home may make you less successful ... or parents have opened their home to help them get back on their feet," she says.
Young adults of both sexes who live independently and have jobs had 91% higher median earnings in 2011 than working peers living in a parent's home ($24,000 vs. $9,000). And those living with parents experienced greater losses in median earnings during the economic slump than their independent peers.
Still, young adults who live with parents aren't mooching, says millennial expert Michael Hais, co-author of 2011 book Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation Is Remaking America.
"Many are paying rent or have only a part-time job and may not be able to live on their own as easily as they might have. But they often contribute to the family financially, even if they don't earn enough to live independently," he says.
Of those who moved out and then back, often called "boomerangs," 89% have helped with household expenses and 48% report paying rent, according to a Pew Research Center report out last year, based on a survey of 2,048 adults.
The Bowling Green analysis notes that in 2011, the unemployment rate for ages 18-34 was 13.6% - compared with 10.3% for the U.S. population overall.
Being able to move back in with parents after a job loss can be a huge benefit, says economist Greg Kaplan, of Princeton University.
His research tracking 1,500 men born in the early 1980s who did not attend college found those who lost a job and moved home with the folks had essentially the same earnings in later years as people who never lost a job.
Through 2003, when his study ended, those who had the option to go back home were less likely to accept a low-paying job just to make ends meet, says Kaplan, whose research was published last year in the Journal of Political Economy. Easier-to-find jobs that pay less have lower long-term growth potential, he adds.
"The longer you can look around, you are more likely to find a better job with better earnings growth. Some had lower pay immediately but the potential for much better growth in the future," he says. "In the long run, it may be better to move back home and look for a better job."
The Bowling Green analysis found that young adults with jobs experienced a 15% decrease in median earnings from 2006 to 2011 - a drop from $22,312 to $19,000. For the employed U.S. population ages 16 and older, the median 2011 income was $28,900, which includes part-time and full-time workers.
Hais, of Arcadia, Calif., says this generation has time to recoup.
"This is still a young generation. It may take time for it to get moving, but it is also a very well-educated generation compared to others, and once the economy turns around, their education may allow them to catch up faster," he says. "It does not necessarily mean they're doomed for all of their lives."
Hais says the fact that young adults who live at home earn less and have higher unemployment rates is "a fact of life because of the economy" - not a sign that parents are enabling lazy or unmotivated kids.
"Parents helping to support their kids financially and psychologically is probably a good thing for the long haul," he says. "Tossing somebody out into a lousy economy when they're not going to be able to compete is not doing them any favors.
"By helping their children, it will pay benefits to the children in the long run."
Payne's analysis shows that women fared better than men; women ages 18 to 24 not living with parents had the smallest increase in unemployment, 35%.
"Women were going into the recession with more tools in their toolkit," Payne says. "The types of jobs that women work in are more service-oriented jobs. The more male-centric positions really took a beating."