Both the unemployment rate and foreclosure rate are sitting at historic lows in Colorado. Despite that, more adults than ever live with family, friends and nonrelated roommates, according to a new report from Shift Research Lab.
“It is hard for me to believe this is not an economic issue,” said Phyllis Resnick, a co-author of the report and executive director of the Colorado Futures Center.
Back in 2006, before the recession hit, there were 415,000 “doubled-up” households in the state. By 2017, the number had risen to 560,000, according to the report, which used counts from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
And that increase doesn’t just reflect a larger population. The number of households of all types rose 16 percent in Colorado between 2006 and 2017, while the growth rate of doubled-up households was 34 percent.
About one in five households was doubled-up in 2006 in Colorado. Now it is around one in four.
Is the increase in households doubling-up an indicator of a coming recession? Resnick said it’s a lagging indicator from the last one. A surge in foreclosures and job losses pushed thousands of people to move in with family and friends after last decade’s downturn. The expectation was that, as the economy improved, the number of doubled-up households would decline.
But when supply failed to keep up with demand, rents and housing costs skyrocketed, especially along the northern Front Range. Beyond that, Resnick said, high costs associated with caring for children and aging relatives may be contributing to the trend.
Doubled-up households cover a wide range of living arrangements. Among the most common are adult-children who have finished school but continue to live with their parents.
Then there are the high school and college friends who share an apartment or home until they find that significant other and part ways. Doubling-up by nonrelated households is rising faster than it is for related ones.
The most dramatic increases in doubling-up have been among single-parent households with young children and those over age 65.
Of the households with children under age 5 who are doubled-up, three-quarters are headed by a single-parent.
“The starkest finding is where children are growing up,” Resnick said. “More children are living in situations where someone outside the nuclear family is also living in the household.”
Often it is grandparents or an aunt or uncle who can help out with child care. And that might also explain the rise in the share of older adults who double-up, although Resnick suspects that more children are taking in aging parents.
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Jennifer Newcomer, director of the Shift Research Lab, which is an arm of the Piton Foundation, said the number of cost-burdened households in the state has gone down, despite rising rents and home prices. That pushed her and Resnick to dig deeper. Household incomes have risen because multiple wage earners have moved in together to get by. That casts a less positive light than if employers had provided pay increases and more high-paying jobs.
“There is some masking going on,” she said.
And it also carries implications for builders. If they can supply housing at the right price range, they could free more people to move out on their own.
“We think there is a hidden source of demand out there,” Resnick said.