Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What if, take two.

Something I talked about last year is coming to pass:

More parents move in with kids
By Greg Toppo and Anthony DeBarros

...The number of parents, siblings and other relatives who live with adult heads of households grew 42% from 2000 to 2007, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Leading the way: parents, up 67%, to 3.6 million...

...Coontz suspects that a host of factors — among them higher housing costs and the nation's struggling economy — are prompting families to combine expenses...

As I previously thought, a situation is developing where extended families and/or groups of very good friends are having to combine their resources and return to the old-fashioned model of intergenerational housing in order to make ends meet. A grand retirement where older folks galavant all over the country sight-seeing is no longer economically viable, to say the least, nor is separate housing for your single-parent sibling and possibly even your newlywed children. As fixed incomes and retirement funds dwindle or even disappear, and living wage jobs are impossible to find for the divorced, widowed, or young couples, most families will have little choice but to live together in one or two extended households, or with friends acting as an extended household.

Americans (and this is true in Israel as well) have a strange idea that every married couple is entitled to separate private housing, but historically, in past sustainable economies, this has never been the case. Part of the re-structuring of the Western economy to sustainability and relocalization will be the necessity for more male incomes to support a single household, and more adult females engaging in the unpaid community economy - and since in this day and underage child labour is not socially acceptable (although there is no reason every teenager in the household cannot hold a part time job and contribute to the finances), it will primarily be your parents, siblings, adult children and their spouses, or very good friends who will have to provide the additional resources - usually because they have inadequate income to support themselves and their kids in a private separate residence.

In the new cash-strapped economy, where home elder-care and homeschooling will have to become the norm instead of the exception, and shopping and errands will have to be done primarily on foot or on bicycles or by means of mass transit, and where the family will have to contribute several hours each week toward various co-op and charity and society duties and a couple hours every day to victory gardening and also probably some sort of home business, more adult hands per household are going to be needed - there simply aren't enough hours in a day for one wife and one husband to do everything that will need to be done.

In the past extended households had sufficient persons to take care of all of these chores and responsibilities. But starting in the Victorian era and extending to the present day, it has become a status and "fashion" statement to hire out these services - which works great if you can afford it, and doesn't work at all if you can't. We are fast approaching the time where hiring out our responsibilities to our parents, kids, and household is no longer an option. What's left is networks of extended families and very good friends living together to reduce housing and transportation expenses, and delegating all the necessary work amoung a greater number of adult hands. This method worked fine for literally thousands of years, and will work fine again, too.

The only question is: will we put the framework in place to accomplish these objectives, or will we muddle on and dig ourselves deeper and deeper into bankruptcy trying to revive a dead paradigm - and an attitude that living within our actual means is beneath us?

It's past time to start thinking seriously about the "what ifs" of our future, class - but better late than never.

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