Capitalist crisis blocks ‘affordable family formation’

By Brian Williams
February 25, 2019

The capitalist economic crisis is increasingly dashing the hopes of many working people, and some among middle-class layers, that their children’s lives will be an improvement over their own. Low wages, mounting debts, and rising rents and housing prices have made forming one’s own family unaffordable for more and more working-class youth.

Under the ravages of dog-eat-dog capitalism, our families, whatever their problems, are ultimately the only institution that working people can turn to for help in dealing with health and housing crises. Today the number of young adults still living in their parents’ homes is the highest in 75 years. Fully a third of all young people — 24 million of those aged 18 to 34 — lived with their parents in 2015. More youth lived with their parents than with a spouse in 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau reports.

In a number of states the figures are higher. In Mississippi it’s 37 percent; Massachusetts, 38 percent; California and Florida, 39 percent; New York, 40 percent; and almost half in New Jersey, 46 percent.

In 2005, the majority of young adults in 35 states lived independently, in their own place. A decade later the number of states where the majority of young people lived on their own had fallen to just six.

One big factor affecting this is workers’ declining income. In 1975, one-quarter of young men had incomes below $30,000 a year, measured in 2015 dollars. By 2016, the figure was 41 percent.

At the same time, student debt has ballooned. Between 1989 and 2013, the amount owed on student loans nearly tripled, from a median of $6,000 to $17,300. This has spurred many graduates to move back with their parents, putting off plans for marriage or raising children.

“In the 1970s, 8 in 10 people married by the time they turned 30,” the Census report said. “Today, not until the age of 45 have 8 in 10 people married.”

The U.S. birthrate hit a record low in 2017, marking years of steady decline. In fact, current childbirth statistics are 16 percent below the number needed for the U.S. population to stay even as older generations die out. The only thing that keeps the U.S. population growing is immigration.

The carnage being visited on young people by the crisis of capitalism today is having a big impact on their “choices” about how to live. There are more young adults today who live with their parents, other family members, are packed in with roommates, or live alone, the Census report said. “Over the past 40 years the proportion of young people who were living with a spouse fell by half, from 57 percent to 27 percent.”

‘Unaffordable family formation’

Large tech companies like Amazon are notorious for hiring new college graduates at crappy wages and pushing them to get places in gaggles. Describing how this leads to what he calls “unaffordable family formation,” Steve Sailer says in an Unz Review blog, “It helps them squeeze more out of workers: The firms like being in places too expensive to raise a family — families are distractions, at least in the short-run.”

And this process lets always greedy landlords push rents in these areas up and up, forcing workers looking to raise a family to either give up their plans or move away.

So young people in their late 20s to early 30s employed at the company’s headquarters in Seattle end up living with gangs of roommates who face the same squeeze instead of forming a family and settling down.

The same situation will play out in Queens, New York, and Crystal City, Virginia, if Amazon moves forward with new satellite headquarters there.

For decades workers moved to big U.S. cities for jobs where they would earn more money than in rural areas, in steel plants in Chicago, shipbuilding yards in Oakland, oil refineries in Houston and auto assembly plants in Detroit. But this is no longer true. The bosses have attacked the unions, lowered pay, and moved all over the country. Over the past couple of decades “jobs like manufacturing and office work equalized between cities and rural areas,” wrote Fortune magazine Jan. 22. “Workers in these jobs can no longer get much of a pay bump by moving into town.”

And housing and rental prices make “affordable family formation” somewhat easier outside the cities.