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Virginia family shows how multi-generational households provide many answers in tough economic times

Posted at 5:44 PM, Mar 01, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. — The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting supply issues, coupled with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have all contributed to the highest inflation the United States has seen in 40 years.

While the inflation crisis has begun to subside, housing remains out of reach for many young people.

Economists say different generations have always lived together at times, but the recent economic turmoil has led to the formation of more such households.

We recently spent some time in the Anderson household, for what was just a typical weeknight.

“I'm making fry bread, so we can have Indian tacos,” Jasmine Anderson, a STEM professional, said. “I'm the designated cook. I feel like I spent the most time with my grandmother cooking, and so everybody comes here to get the closest version of her food.”

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Anderson, 33, is a mother of two.

You’ll typically find her cooking for lots of family, as in extended family.

“This is how my tribe lived, in multi-generational households. And so it just seemed like the natural thing for us to do,” Anderson said.

Her household now includes four generations.

While other families have had to consolidate under one roof because of economic struggles, she said their Essex County homestead has always been this way.

Her mom agrees.

“There's an old cliché that says, ‘the young are good for the old, and the old are good for the young,’ and I get to see real evidence of that, in real-time,” Brenda Anderson-Diggs, a 62-year-old college IT professor, said.

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She cited as proof that when her mother died, the family closed ranks around her father and family patriarch Preston Anderson, who they feared was ready to withdraw after losing the love of his life.

“I don't think you ever get over that, but we had to get him to the next step in the journey and certainly having those great-grandchildren, especially Joyce,” Anderson-Diggs said, pointing to her seven-year-old granddaughter. “That child was his therapy.”

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The Andersons might be an exception among those contributing to the rise in multigenerational households, which was happening before the pandemic, but which sped up in recent years.

“It kind of gets exacerbated with the inflation,” University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business Prof. Tom Arnold said. “So a lot of families are having grandparents essentially raising their children.”

Arnold said inflation, coupled with rising interest rates, has made finding an affordable home right now a challenge for everyone, but especially for the young.

“You do have inventory problems with housing now, that may turn around,” said Arnold. “But that's probably not going to help the younger generation that are graduating right now. I don't see them going into houses, but then they're going to have to go and make different kinds of decisions.”

Recent data compiled by US News and World Report showed inflation's impact on multigenerational households.

Their numbers show nearly three-quarters of those who went back to their parents' home or got a roommate, did so because rising prices made rent and utilities simply too much. The same number, about 71%, listed home ownership as a long-term goal and also said that the next generation will have an even tougher time than they are.

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But moving back home comes with challenges that go hand in hand with the financial benefits.

“So maybe it's a little less about the money, and more about the social fabric of the family, being able to weave it back together,” financial planner Jamie Cox, with the Harris Financial Group in Midlothian, said.

He said you need to be specific about responsibilities upfront.

“So everybody understands before the move-in date, what their responsibilities are,” Cox said. “Because if you don't, you're going to have nothing but conflict along the way.”

Cox points out that the savings in not having to pay for an assisted living facility for elderly parents or child care can help build equity significantly.

That's something everyone in the Anderson household knows well.

“It's been really helpful, especially with working from home and everything, because I have support,” Jasmine Anderson said. “And I know that I'm blessed and very fortunate to have that support because I know that a lot of people don't have it.”

Her mom also sees the economic value in holding on to the family homestead.

“I actually started telling my students: don't sell grandma's property,” said Anderson-Diggs. “The only thing you can't reproduce is time and land.”

And if you're lucky, you can make memories beyond a single lifetime.

“My kids are going to remember this,” Jasmine Anderson said. “They're going to remember their great-grandfather, and they're going to remember doing things with their grandfather.”

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