Waltons Effect Confirmed
Over the past three years I’ve been talking about the “Waltons’ Effect”—how families will need to pool resources and live together in order to get by in the Era of Less. Last week the Census Bureau confirmed what we can see happening all around us. In fact, young adults have moved back in or are staying in parent homes while more grandparents are moving back in too. And as you would expect in down economic times more non-related adults also are living together.
According to the Census Bureau, the number of adults sharing households with family members or other individuals increased by more than 11% between 2007 and 2010, the latest data available. That amounts to close to 20% of all households and helps account for two million fewer occupied homes in the U.S., according to the Washington Post.
In typical recessions, this move-back-in phenomenon is expectable and short-lived. But the impacts of a generation of over-borrowing by consumers and government in addition to productivity gains (read technology enables companies to be more profitable using fewer U.S. employees) promises to stunt household formations in the ongoing slow, painful, and now possibly stymied economic recovery.
The consequences of the “Waltons’ Effect” on real estate are particularly noticeable and obvious. When people live together and pool resources out of necessity they buy or rent fewer homes and buy less stuff in stores to fill those homes. Homebuilders and contractors have less work, retailers need fewer stores, mortgage brokers and realtors have less business, and that means fewer jobs, which keeps unemployment high. We all know what’s happened to home prices and new home construction. Apartment development has been strong, but that fits with the related phenomenon of people orienting to pared down lifestyles in smaller units without the toll of home ownership responsibilities and costs.
So why will the “Waltons’ Effect” become a back-to-the- future way of life for more families over the next generation and not a passing fancy? The economy shows no evidence of capacity to create enough high-paying jobs for the bulge of Gen Y adults trying to enter the workforce. Big multinational companies headquartered in the U.S. keep farming more jobs overseas and that includes the tech giants. The financial companies’ heyday is over—Moody’s last week just confirmed the obvious—the nation’s big banks don’t exactly have rosy outlooks, although by comparison they certainly look stronger than their faltering European brethren. Government will be no help—politics and reduced tax revenues dictate public employee layoffs. Marginally, more manufacturing operations return to the U.S., but plants use far fewer workers than in the past thanks again to robotics and technology. Without big employers hiring small businesses will continue to suffer—despite the rhetoric, most small businesses live off the bigger ones, not the other way around. When the big factory closes down or large headquarters operation downsizes what happens to all the mom-and-pop businesses in town? So any job generation will be slowed. That will keep young adult children at home longer.
As for the grandparents, fewer seniors will have any kind of savings to live independently. Pensions disappear, few people have saved enough in their 401Ks. Social Security won’t get anybody very far. The talk is seniors will work longer, but they’ll be competing against their grandchildren who have greater tech skills for the already limited number of jobs out there. And how can arthritic 60 and 70 year-olds compete against 20 and 30 year-olds in hard-core, labor-intensive blue-collar work? No, they’ll be babysitting the grandkids and contributing something to the food and electricity bills, while living in Jon Boy’s guest bedroom or over the garage in the dormer.
“Good night Grandma.”
Addendum: Did you see the story in Sunday’s New York Times about Apple Stores and its retail employees? Owners of retail space drool over the prospect of Apple tenancy—Apple stores gross more sales per square foot than any other retailer, a whopping $5,650. But the 30,000 Apple retail workers average less than $12 an hour in wages. Many are tech savvy college grads who will settle for less in the rough jobs market. Apple is talking about giving the sales staff raises putting salaries closer to $20 an hour (since the newspaper started digging into the story mind you), but that still works out to only about $36,000 a year. Apple employees total about 43,000 in the U.S., including the retail force— so more than three quarters of its high tech jobs aren’t necessarily all they are cracked up to be in the earnings department. That’s why many of those Gen Y folks who help you out with your I-pad problems probably are living with their parents.