Census: Recession Drove Shared Households and Higher Poverty Rates

American multigen family

A new Census Bureau report confirms what every re-feathered nest, caregiving combo, or extended family household knows: Following the recent recession, there were more combined households in 2010 (22 million - 18.7 percent of all households) than there were in 2007 (19.7 million.) And guess what else? Personal poverty rates are higher among the adults who live in these households.

The findings validate my favorite refrain: When finances get tough, families come together.  That includes opening our homes, cleaning out closets and making room for baby ... and grandma ...  and college graduate ... and job-seeker ... and those who've lost their homes ... the list goes on and on.

The report, Sharing a Household: Household Composition and Economic well-Being: 2007-2010, looks at household composition and income data from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey.

The most striking to me are the data on poverty rates among shared households;* clearly there are economic drivers causing millions of families to move in together. But the situation may not be what you think: It's not all about financially secure householders taking in less fortunate family members. In fact, these householders are strapped too - they had higher poverty rates than those not living in shared homes.

  • In 2010, personal poverty rates for these householders were higher than those not in shared households. But official (total family income) and household poverty rates were lower, suggesting that taking in other adults helps ease household finances.
  • Between 2007 and 2010, additional adults in shared households increased to 15% of all adults, with more than 50% under the age of 35 (those ages 25-34 accounted for almost half to the increase.) They were more likely to live with relatives (almost half lived with parents) and personal and official poverty rates were higher than householders.

Regardless of the reason family members jump into multigenerational living, sharing expenses as well as space can be beneficial. But it doesn't come without challenges. Here are a few tips to help things run smoothly (and remember to re-visit these issues regularly because circumstances can change rapidly):

  • Create a shared budget.  Determine how you will divide household expenses such as groceries, home repair and cleaning supplies. You could as for equal cash contributions from all, base it on income or include household work in lieu of cash (such as cleaning, child care, cooking.)
  • Find public benefits. Do a quick AARP Benefits QuickLINK screening to find out if individuals, families and households may qualify.
  • Decide how to use space. If possible give each household member space - with a door. A place to cool off and recharge may ease tensions and prevent problems. All generations in a home have a need for personal space and alone time.
  • Hold household conferences. Whether family members or not, those who share households benefit from regular conversations about concerns, what's working and necessary changes. If you don't schedule ongoing times for these discussions, you'll be more likely to have building resentments and molehills can turn into family/household mountains!

Check out my article, When Generations Share Space, for more of my tips for shared households!

*Note: Shared households were defined as those with at least one "additional" adult who is 18 or older, not enrolled in school, not the householder or the householder's spouse nor cohabitating partner.

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