You have probably heard it said, “once a man, twice a child” referring to the two phases of life that entail full dependency. Well, perhaps these days it is beginning to sound more like an old Lionel Richie tune, “Once, twice, three times a baby.”
Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett suggests that there is a new age classification, emerging adults, which bridges the gap between adolescence and adulthood. According to his theory, people in their 20s go through a time of development that’s distinct from other stages of adulthood, and this developmental period explains some of the reluctance of adult children to leave the nest for good.[i]
It sounds to me like we should just label this “failure to emerge” as an adult.
In 2012 a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data revealed that 36% of the nation’s young adults ages 18 to 31 were living at home with their parents.[ii] These young adults are sometimes referred to as Boomerang children.
Approximately 13% of adult children between 18 and 29 move back in with their parents after an attempt to live alone…Additionally, fewer young adults are working than at any time since the 1950s, and college enrollment is at an all-time high.[iii]
You might be tempted to think that there is light at the end of the tunnel given the peak college enrollment. Think again. Many are finding today that the additional education just means more debt and less than abundant job prospects in a still difficult economy. In 2007, 70% of young adults ages 18 to 31 were employed. In 2012 that number for the same age group dropped to 63%.[iv] As for the increase in debt for their education:
Seven in 10 college seniors (71%) who graduated last year had student loan debt, with an average of $29,400 per borrower. From 2008 to 2012, debt at graduation (federal and private loans combined) increased an average of six percent each year.
So, what else are these “emerging adults” and their parents up against? A rising tide of older generations in need of their help currently or in the near future. You might say the dependents will be depending on the dependents. “Baby Boomers, meet the Boomerangs.”
Much of the over-65 crowd is also dependent on the state. It is estimated right now that 165 million workers are covered under Social Security. We have a workforce in which 51 percent have no private pension coverage and 34 percent have no savings designated for retirement. Of the beneficiaries of our Social Security system, 22 percent of married couples and around 47 percent of singles rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.[v] Now we would expect dependency in old age just as we would for children but these groups are effectively wards of the State. They are leaning on an insolvent, bureaucratic government as their caregiver. This is a weak reed for sure. What happens when dependency meets bankruptcy?
One of the issues is the large aging baby boomer population. According to a recent report by AARP, in 2010 for every person 80 and older, there were seven adults 45 to 64. As the baby boomer generation ages, that ratio drops to four to one by 2030 and three to one by 2050. AARP reported there may not be enough family caregivers to go around.[vi]
Pew research finds that most adult children feel they have a responsibility to financially assist elderly parents in need. At the same time, most do not provide it.[vii] Many feel they simply are not in a position to provide financial assistance. If this is the case, it will only get more difficult should the statistics above prove accurate. Take a look at the chart below in light of boomerang children, “emerging adults”, debt-ridden college graduates, and the insolvency of Social Security and Medicare.
So now what? At this point, most become overwhelmed and most heads quickly begin heading for sand. Steeped in our present orientation we just pop some popcorn, find something good on Netflix and travel to the proverbial la-la land where these realities will never come to fruition.
But what can we do? We can do what we should have done prior to this mess – go to the Scriptures for answers. First, we should admit dependency, but one that puts all of its weight onto Christ as our Sovereign caregiver and does things his way. In 1 Samuel 8, Israel rejects God as their sovereign and negative consequences followed. The church today has done the same and is experiencing the same results.
Second, we need to better understand the scriptural principles relating to building, providing and receiving inheritance. The most important inheritance left to any heir is that which is more precious than the finest gold – God’s law.
…the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
Understanding this, financial provision is also accounted for in scripture. The relationship between parents and children in the Bible is not just familial and emotional in nature; it is covenantal. This covenantal relationship has provisions for keeping capital in the hands of faithful sons over time. Biblical heirs in God’s family are responsible heirs. Building an inheritance that is passed down to responsible, productive heirs who follow God’s law ensures capital remains in the hands of those who will use it according to God’s prescription. It funds the building of God’s kingdom and defunds those who are unproductive or rebel against the Word of God.
In Deuteronomy we see the principle of the double-portion (Deut. 21:17). In Israel this double-portion was designated for the eldest son who was a responsible covenant member. Presumably this would put him in a position to better care for his parents in their old age. The parents made preparations by building a sufficient inheritance to pass-on their own future provision as well as additional inheritance for both the eldest son and any other siblings. This system required both parents and children who were responsible and future oriented.
Today, we have given over much of the responsibility for our parents over to the state. We grumble over tax increases (tribute to our king – think 1 Samuel 8) and a state that extends too far into our personal affairs, but what we are really experiencing are just these same biblical principles described above in a form of judgment versus blessing. The state has provided financially for the birth of many of today’s children. It has provided free education. State welfare programs take care of many throughout their adult life. It then promises to care for them in their old age through Social Security and Medicare. The state in effect earns the right to become a legitimate heir and as such, receives what is due her in the form of inheritance taxes.
This should provide us a clear understanding of the necessity of following the biblical model of inheritance that requires responsible parents and responsible children who live according to the terms of God’s word. Once we grasp these principles the steps that lead out of our current enslavement, though they take time, become very practical.
At the risk of sounding too simplistic, in general, parents should work diligently six days a week, avoid bad debt, save with inheritance in mind instead of retirement, have more babies, nurture them, refuse to allow the state to educate the children and fully saturate them in the Word of God. Those children when grown should heed God’s Word, also work diligently and take care of their dependent parents in the future, should the need arise. The dependent parents should reject slavery to the state through Social Security and submit to the household in which they reside. This is the biblical program for ensuring that God’s resources are properly allocated for the building of his kingdom throughout history.
One might be quick to label such a program as idealistic or utopian. They might say that to work toward such a system is naïve given the size of the social and economic predicament outlined above. Still, we should avoid the temptation of dismissing God’s program as out of reach. When we do, we betray our own future orientation as well as simply a lack of faith in God’s Word. Although our current cultural context is messy and chaotic, we can begin to work for change. It is a good start just to take additional time to study what God’s Word has to say on these contemporary issues. We can then make small changes. We can keep making small changes. And although these may seem like baby steps, as we take them we will find that baby steps move us in the direction of maturity. One day we will find that God’s people on earth actually become the responsible sons that are due his glorious inheritance.