For many Americans, the economic recovery from the pandemic hasn’t felt like one. Despite falling inflation and a broad run-up in savings that households enjoyed over the past few years, many parents with working-age children are taking financial hits to help support them.
Just over half of parents with children over 18 said in a Bankrate/YouGov survey released Monday that they’d sacrificed some of their emergency savings and debt repayments to aid their adult children. Some 43% of respondents in the poll, conducted in mid-March, said such financial assistance had dented their own retirement savings.
The findings hint at the toll taken by months of price increases, even on working-age Americans who’ve benefited from a historically hot job market — and even as both continue to slow.
The Federal Reserve has reason to cheer Wednesday’s Consumer Price Index data, which showed prices averaging 5% higher in March than the year before, down from 6% in February. Fed officials have signaled that slower pay growth and hiring are necessary costs to battling inflation.
But for parents like Ed Lebert, a 41-year-old software engineer based in St. Paul, Minnesota, efforts to support family members who have struggled to gain financial independence represent a hidden cost that’s separate from those in grocery aisles or at the pump.
Around two years ago, Lebert’s now-22-year-old daughter and her then-infant son moved in with him and his wife, who works part-time as an office manager at a dental practice, along with their two youngest children, ages 18 and 10. Since then, he said, his daughter purchased a 2022 Honda Civic with a double-digit auto loan and wrecked it, racking up $13,000 in repairs on top of her $800 monthly car payment.
“It’s difficult as a parent, because it’s like you want your kids to make good financial decisions, but when they don’t, you also don’t want to just always bail them out,” he said.
Lebert said he and his wife, who pay a $3,000-per-month mortgage, are trying to provide some slack for their daughter, who works at a local Chick-Fil-A, so she can save up to repair her car and stash away at least a year’s worth of rent.
While he said the financial strain isn’t acute, Lebert buys groceries for the entire family — sometimes his daughter chips in — and his wife is looking for a full-time job to support their 18-year-old daughter’s tuition when she starts college this fall.
“She eats dinner with us. She goes to work. But we don’t pay her bills, and we don’t charge her rent,” Lebert said of their 22-year-old, “so she can just stay here and survive.”
So far, the arrangement is manageable. “I haven’t had to dip into retirement or savings to take care of my adult kids,” he said, but added that he might wind up doing so to “just fix the car and buy it.”
Among parents in similar situations, most haven’t tapped their retirement funds to help out, the Bankrate survey shows. The 43% who reported doing so in March was lower than the 50% level found in 2019, the last time the poll was conducted.
But Ted Rossman, a senior industry analyst at Bankrate, a consumer-finance data provider, posited that the findings may conceal substantial variations across households that support working-age children. He noted that financial strides made earlier in the pandemic — including jumps in Americans’ savings — were not spread equally.
In Bankrate’s latest survey, those who said their retirement savings had been “significantly” affected by throwing lifelines to adult kids ticked up slightly to 18%, from 17% in 2019.
“A lot of the gains have eroded in the past year,” Rossman said. “In certain income brackets, like lower-income folks, I think that cushion is definitely gone.”
The survey found that households earning under $50,000 per year were more likely to help support grown children than those making more than $100,000. In fact, 58% of lower-income respondents said they’d sacrificed emergency savings for their adult kids, compared to 46% for the higher-earning group. (Earners in the middle of those two groups reported sacrificing less than either one in both categories.)
Joe Brusuelas, the chief economist at the consulting firm RSM, who wasn’t involved in the Bankrate survey, said the findings were no surprise. Low-earners’ “finances have been stretched due to two years of elevated inflation, rising interest rates and affordability issues when it comes to shelter,” he said.
These pressures have led some working-age adults — including those who are caregivers themselves — to move in with relatives to help reduce costs. “This idea of a multigenerational household is one that’s not new to the United States economy,” Brusuelas said, “but it’s returned with a vengeance during the time of inflation.”
As interest rates rise, some expenses like those Lebert’s family face are rising. Take the Honda his daughter purchased: According to analytics firm J.D. Power, the average APR for new vehicle auto loans reached 6.7% in March, up steeply from 4.4% the same month a year ago. The average monthly payment for new vehicles climbed to $721, from $663, during the same period.