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In a provocative campaign ad, American Crossroads, a Republican-aligned group, criticized President Barack Obama for being a "celebrity" who yukked it up with Jimmy Fallon, danced a softshoe with Ellen DeGeneres and dissed Kanye West as a "jackass" -- while the economy crumbled.
We zeroed in on one claim in the ad -- that "after four years of a celebrity president … 85% (of recent college grads are) moving back in with their parents."
Where the 85 percent figure comes from
The ad attributes the claim to a Time magazine story dated May 10, 2011. We found the article in question, which was headlined, "Survey: 85% of New College Grads Move Back in with Mom and Dad."
The story begins, "The kids are coming home to roost. Surprise, surprise: Thanks to a high unemployment rate for new grads, many of those with diplomas fresh off the press are making a return to Mom and Dad’s place. In fact, according to a poll conducted by consulting firm Twentysomething Inc., some 85% of graduates will soon remember what Mom’s cooking tastes like."
Since the Time story didn’t give any details on the study or give any indication that a reporter had called the firm -- the same was true for the two other media reports that cited the statistic, the New York Post and CNNMoney.com -- we tried to contact Twentysomething Inc. for additional details on the methodology and date of the survey.
Twentysomething's website was not much help. There was no news release about the study, and the phone number listed had been disconnected. It appears the site hasn't been updated since 2009.
Ultimately, we received a call back from David A. Morrison, the firm’s managing director and founding partner. Morrison said he had closed down his Philadelphia-based firm after about two decades of operation and left the area. He told us the poll had been done for a client "many years ago" but would not release any details about the methodology, citing a binding non-disclosure agreement with the client, whom he would not name.
Morrison speculated that his client had leaked the numbers to the media. "These numbers tend to get recycled," Morrison said.
He is right about it being recycled. The statistic has been repeated many times on websites and blogs -- twice in the Huffington Post, for instance, and once in the personal finance blog PT Money. It even was picked up by bloggers both liberal (Democratic Underground) and conservative (Free Republic), each with their own political spin. We did not hear back from the author of the Time magazine article.
Morrison told us that given the fact the survey was done "many years ago," it was not accurate to use statistic the way the ad did.
What’s the actual number?
As it happens, there are credible statistics about grads returning home, from a report released March 15, 2012 by the Pew Research Center, titled "The Boomerang Generation: Feeling OK about Living with Mom and Dad."
The report included a survey of 2,048 adults nationwide conducted Dec. 6 to Dec. 19, 2011. Unlike Twentysomething, Pew offered extensive documentation about how it had conducted the poll and what the results were.
The report examines the boomerang phenomenon for different demographic groups, but none come close to 85 percent:
• Among adults ages 18 to 29, 42 percent of those who have graduated college live with their parents.
• Among adults ages 25 to 29 with or without a college degree, 41 percent either live with or moved back in with their parents.
• Among adults ages 18 to 34, 24 percent moved back in with their parents in recent years after living on their own, due to economic conditions.
• Among parents of adult children, 29 percent report that a child of theirs has moved back in with them in the past few years because of the economy.
The Pew report does show modest support for a trend of grads moving back home. It found that in 2010, almost 22 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 lived in a "multigenerational household," up from about 16 percent in 2000; of these, the vast majority were living with their parents. ("Multi-generational households" are defined to include parents living with children 25 and older, or households with three or more generations.)
Finally, when we take up a claim in which the speaker seeks to assign credit or blame to a politician for something that happens on their watch, we also consider whether credit or blame is warranted. And as we have ruled in the past, no president can unilaterally move the economy, much less determine whether grads have to move home with Mom and Dad.
"There was a worldwide credit bubble that led to a worldwide financial collapse that led to a global Great Recession," said J.D. Foster, an economist with the conservative Heritage Foundation told us last month. "If you accept that observation, it becomes hard to blame anyone in the U.S. overly for the results."
Foster added, "The simple political narrative is to blame the other side. Fair enough to a point. The party in power always gets too much blame and too much credit, depending on circumstances."
So it's a stretch to blame Obama if more grads are returning home.
The ad cites a questionable survey and suggests the data is new when the author says the survey was "many years ago."
Also, the 85 percent figure is at least twice the highest rate found by Pew, a well-respected research group. And the ad blames Obama for a phenomenon that economists say is beyond the impact of a president. We rate the claim False.
American Crossroads, "Cool" (ad), April 26, 2012
Pew Research Center, "The Boomerang Generation: Feeling OK about Living with Mom and Dad," March 15, 2012
Twentysomething Consulting and Research, website, accessed April 30, 2012
Time, "Survey: 85% of New College Grads Move Back in with Mom and Dad," May 10, 2011
New York Post, "85% of college grads return to nest," May 7, 2011
CNNMoney.com, "Boomerang kids: 85% of college grads move home," Nov. 15, 2010
Interview with David A. Morrison, managing director and founding partner of Twentysomething Consulting and Research, May 1, 2012
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