A recent AP story about 50-year-olds moving back into their parents homes because the economy is so bad is one of the best examples of taking anecdotal evidence and stretching it into a universal truth that I have seen for a while. Filled with the sadly common "many say" and all based on the tale of one person who moved back home at 52, the AP magically discerned a national trend. This is the sort of shoddy reporting that is geared for one thing and one thing only: to promulgate a political agenda.
AP business writer Emily Fredrix gives us the sensationally titled, "Last Hope in a Weak Economy? Mom and Dad," in which she nicely sums up her unsupported claim in the third paragraph.
Taking shelter with parents isn't uncommon for young people in their 20s, especially when the job market is poor. But now the slumping economy and the credit crunch are forcing some children to do so later in life -- even in middle age.
Fredrix bases this claim on the story of just one person with the story of Jo Ann Bauer who got a divorce, lost her job and had to move back into her parent's home to get by. Bauer is 52 and her parents are in their 80s.
Naturally the AP story informs us that this is all because of the bad economy. But, if one really pays attention to what is really happening in the life of Ms. Bauer, they'll soon realize that her many bad choices led to her financial troubles as opposed to any troubles with the economy serving as the cause. In fact, the rest of the story hints that the people of which writer Fredrix is talking about have all fallen on tough financial times because of their own stupidity as opposed to the so-called bad economy.
While the AP passes off this story as some sort of national trend, there are no statistics proving the claim that so many American 50-year-olds are moving back into their parent's homes. We do, however, get vague claims by people who are saying they've seen it -- of course, people claim they've seen Big-foot, too!
Here is a particularly dishonest passage set forth as "proof" in the AP story.
Financial planners report receiving many calls from parents seeking advice about taking in their grown children following divorces and layoffs.
This is the sort of absurd writing that passes for "journalism" these days. But if you really look at this phrase, it is meaningless unless you just accept it as the truth on face value alone. The story, though, offers no statistics to buttress the claim. It does not say how many "financial planners" have "reported" this claim. It does not correlate where these financial planners are located in the country, either. All we get is "many calls" that are "reported" to the AP writer. It’s all hearsay and assumptions.
Then we get this:
Kim Foss Erickson, a financial planner in Roseville, Calif., north of Sacramento, said she has never seen older children, even those in their 50s, depending so much on their parents as in the last six months.
"This is not like, 'OK, my son just graduated from college and needs to move back in' type of thing," she said. "These are 40- and 50-year-old children of my clients that they're helping out."
OK, all well and good. What are the numbers to prove that these parents are helping their children at a higher rate than they used to? Are some areas of the country seeing this at higher rates than others? Are there any stats to show any of these claims? If there are, the AP sure as heck isn't sharing them with us.
Then we get one little hint of what could be happening that the AP writer does not explore even though it is probably more the true cause of the troubles than the economy might be.
Some of Erickson's clients are giving as much as $50,000 at a time to their kids, many of whom have overextended themselves with big houses or lavish lifestyles. And the sliding economy might threaten their jobs.
We now should consider if it is really the bad economy or is it the bad choices made by these children who "have overextended themselves with big houses or lavish lifestyles"? Obviously the later. Yet, the AP still wants to blame the economy instead of the bad choices and "overextended lifestyles."
Now we get to two other issues that the AP doesn't bother to consider with this badly researched and unsupported story. The first is proof of a change in financial situations and the second is any question of what the role of family is supposed to be in the first place.
For the first question the AP gives us some vague survey results that are not expounded upon or supported by secondary research or wider statistics.
A new survey by the retiree-advocacy group AARP found that one-fourth of Generation Xers, those 28 to 39 years old, receive financial help from family and friends.
The online survey of nearly 1,800 people ages 19 to 39 also found 57 percent believed they were "financially independent." But in a separate question, 33 percent said they received financial support from family and friends.
Well, OK. We see that a certain percentage claim they are getting help from family and friends here. And the then we wonder, so what? Is this an unexpected rise in numbers? How does it compare to the 1990s or the 1980s or the 1920s for that matter? Is it high, low, in the middle? Has there been any change at all from recent facts? Who knows? Not the AP it seems.
Lastly we must consider the second point I raised. What IS a family for in the first place? Has there ever been a time when the largest number of children left home to never, ever accept any help from Mom and Dad again? Should there even be that expectation? Isn't the help one can receive from family members, whether extended or immediate, what a family is for? Isn't it one of the jobs of family members to support each other when one member is in need?
So, if family members are helping each other out in times of financial stress isn't this a good thing? Is the AP against family members being there for each other in times of need, are they trying to say that families helping each other out is somehow a bad thing? Or is it that the AP would prefer the government to do all the "helping"?
In the final analysis, this story offers no proof of the claims made at all. But it does do one thing very well and that is the only purpose for this story. It gives an uninformed, unquestioning reader the distinct feeling that everything in America is bad today. And all this during a presidential election where news of a bad economy will help Democrats, too.
(Image from davemanual.com)