Debbie Rohr lives with her husband and twin teenage sons in a well-tended three-bedroom home in Salinas, Calif.
The ranch-style house has a spacious kitchen that looks out on a yard filled with rosebushes. It’s a modest but comfortable house, the type that Rohr, 52, pictured for herself at this stage of life.
She just never imagined that it would be her childhood home, a return to a bedroom where she once hung posters of Olivia Newton-John.
Driven by economic necessity – Rohr has been chronically unemployed and her husband lost his job last year – she moved her family back home with her 77-year-old mother.
At a time when the still-sluggish economy has sent a flood of jobless young adults back home, older people are quietly moving in with their parents at twice the rate of their younger counterparts.
For seven years through 2012, the number of Californians ages 50 to 64 who live in their parents’ homes swelled 67.6 percent to about 194,000, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.
The jump is almost exclusively the result of financial hardship caused by the recession rather than for other reasons, such as the need to care for aging parents, said Steven P. Wallace, a UCLA professor of public health who crunched the data.
“The numbers are pretty amazing,” Wallace said. “It’s an age group that you normally think of as pretty financially stable. They’re midcareer. They may be thinking ahead toward retirement. They’ve got a nest egg going. And then all of a sudden you see this huge push back into their parents’ homes.”
The surge in middle-aged people moving in with parents reflects the grim economic reality that has taken hold in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Long-term unemployment is especially acute for older people. The number of Americans 55 and older who have been out of work for a year or more was 617,000 at the end of December, a fivefold jump from the end of 2007 when the recession hit, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As with Rohr, those in their 50s move in only as a last resort. Many have exhausted savings. Some have jobs but can’t shoulder soaring rents in areas such as Los Angeles or San Francisco.
Whatever the cause, moving in with Mom and Dad exacts a bruising emotional toll. Even asking to move the family in was difficult for Rohr.
“I said, ‘Mom, I’m so sorry, but I don’t know what to do,’ ” she said. “I dreaded it. If it wasn’t for my boys, I wouldn’t have done it. I would have lived in my car.”
Jenny Chung Mejia knows how tough it can be. As a public policy consultant at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in Los Angeles, she helps people and communities regain their economic health.
“It’s unexpected vulnerability at this point in your life,” she said. “When you’re supposed to be the provider, sort of the rock for yourself and your family and maybe your parents, the table just gets turned on you and the rug gets pulled out from under you.”
That’s what happened to Janine Rosales, who moved into her mother’s San Francisco home two years ago after a career of mostly low-paying jobs left her unable to afford the city’s towering rents.
For Rosales, 53, it represented a personal defeat, an unofficial marker of unmet goals.
“I sit here sometimes and I see baby pictures of myself and my teenage years and remember all the dreams I had,” Rosales said. “I never thought I’d end up where I am.”