When Damon Casarez moved back home at age 26, his childhood bedroom had been converted into an office. He slept on the living room couch and felt, he says, “like a loser.”
He’d managed for a year and a half after college to afford both rent and student loan payments — and those were twice his rent. But then he hit a dry spell in his work as a photographer’s assistant and in his freelance business, zeroing out his bank account. Moving back home was a last resort.
“It was a very uncomfortable state,” Casarez says. “But after I got over being home at 26, I started thinking about student loans in general, and what a big issue it is. I thought more about sleeping on the couch and how kind of funny and messed up it was, and I thought about it visually, too. Being uncomfortable is what got me started on the project.”
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His Generation’s Plight
The project was a series of photographs of young adults just like him, boomerang kids who had moved back in with Mom and Dad. The way Casarez posed them for portraits, they look slightly out of place. A twentysomething man plays with a Batman toy; a young woman in business attire sits in a family dining room working on a computer.
The uncomfortable tone of the images captures plans gone awry. And while the photos mirrored Casarez’s own plight, they also struck a universal nerve.
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When he pitched the series to The New York Times, the paper latched on, hiring Casarez to travel across the country taking more photos. In June, 2014, his published pictures and an article on the economic forces that compel kids back to the nest flew to the top of the paper’s most emailed list and generated more than 1,600 comments.
All of which makes Casarez a big fan of parents keeping their boomerang kids slightly on edge.
How Parents Should Be
His own parents initially questioned Casarez when he moved back home, asking why he didn’t just get another job, any job, since photography was slow. That led to a heart-to-heart.
“I didn’t go to a private art college and take on the risk of all those loans at 12 percent interest to not pursue my dream career,” Casarez says. “I was going to be a photographer no matter what. If I took another job, I wouldn’t have time to focus on myself, to market my work and to get ideas.”
His parents accepted his desire to chase his dreams. But they didn’t clear out the office.
On about half of the shoots for the project, Casarez met the parents. Most, he said, were happy to have their kids back home and willing to help them out in their time of need. But they also pushed their kids, asking about job prospects and money and steps taken toward a goal.
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“That’s great,” Casarez says. “You need parents to keep you in line, so you don’t get too comfortable and decide to just stay home, rent free. It’s good to have a check-in system.”
As Casarez traveled, he found his peers were generally optimistic, an impression confirmed by Next Avenue columnist Jeffrey Arnett, a psychologist at Clark University.
Arnett recently conducted a poll of Millennials and found that three-quarters of them believe they will be better off than their parents. He thinks their sunny sense of the future may pan out, since they approach work so much differently from previous generations and are willing to wait for the right chances.
Casarez believes his generation is optimistic because they feel like their dreams are achievable. “They stay positive as long as they are making moves to the goal,” he notes.
“Sure, some people feel a little stuck or lost," says Casarez. "But — and I’m speaking from my own experience as well — moving back home is a minor setback in the big picture, even though it may last five years.”
That’s a long time to stay uncomfortable. But Casarez will take the couch over giving up the dream any day.
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