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Maria Serrano (far left) visited Cozumel, Mexico in January 2015 with her mother, Claudia Niño, father, Carlos Serrano, and brother, Mauricio Serrano (far right).  Photo: Courtesy of Serrano’s family.
Maria Serrano (far left) visited Cozumel, Mexico in January 2015 with her mother, Claudia Niño, father, Carlos Serrano, and brother, Mauricio Serrano (far right). Photo: Courtesy of Serrano’s family.

Millennial breadwinners

Maria Serrano, then 22, scrambled through her final exam feeling like her head was on the brink of shattering. After turning in her test, Serrano stumbled to the nearest restroom to heave.

Hours later, her mother rushed her to Baptist Hospital.

“The pressure was too much,” Serrano said. “I lost all control. I lost all power.”

Serrano was a full-time student at Miami Dade College working two jobs to support her parents. Both had lost their jobs in 2012, during the recession.

By Karen M. Noa
South Florida News Service
Follow us on: @SFNS_NewsInstagram • Facebook 

Serrano, now 25, a journalism student at Florida International University, recalls watching a segment on the news about the possible economic recession the night before she moved to the United States from her native Colombia.

“I never imagined I would come from a country in a recession to another country in a recession,” Serrano said. “It was a dream to live in the U.S. since I was a little girl. I never imagined the recession would hit my house so directly.”

According to a study published by TD Ameritrade in the summer, 20 percent of the Millennial generation, ranging in age between 18 and 35, are supporting their parents financially.

“Everything I made was being put into the house, from rent, car insurance, groceries, utilities, all the expenses,” Serrano said.

The TD Ameritrade report also shows that Millennials contribute an average of more than $18,000 a year, and 12 percent of those who participated in the study have had to get a second job to make ends meet.

Serrano included.

“I worked 14 hours a day, around 70 to 80 hours a week,” Serrano said. “My day started at 3:30 a.m. at Univision until 8:30 a.m. and from 9 a.m. until the end of the day at a flower company.”

Stephanie, 23, who asked for her last name to be omitted, found herself in a similar situation.

Her parents, both high school teachers with master’s degrees, were part of the 2.6 million people who lost their jobs in 2008. Stephanie’s parents were told they were overqualified.

“I was working two jobs and in college to qualify for better jobs,” Stephanie said. “And there my parents were, getting laid off because they were too qualified to teach children.”

The TD Ameritrade study found that 26 percent of participants felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of being the primary income in their household. About half of them actually discussed it with the recipients of the support.

“I cried myself to sleep every night. I think most of my friends in the same situation did. We talked to each other, never our parents,” Stephanie said. “Only one friend ever spoke up. And that’s because her dad was blowing the little money they had on alcohol.”

Claudia Nino, Serrano’s mother, said Serrano had her good days and her not-so-good days. But they continued to remind each other that their situation was only temporary and they needed to support each other.

“We, as parents, work so our children have everything,” said Nino. “But for us, it wasn’t possible.”

In the beginning, Serrano said she learned to appreciate how much it took to maintain a household and build on her relationship with her parents. However, toward the end of the two years, Serrano was resentful.

“When I got home, I barely spoke to them. I locked myself in my room and cried,” Serrano said. “I said, ‘leave me alone’. How come they couldn’t find a job?”

Serrano is no alone.

Fifteen percent of the study participants felt that their quality of life was suffering because of the financial support they were providing, 32 percent felt obliged to help and 28 percent felt frustrated.

Stephanie included.

“My life was a routine: school to work, and to my other job and home. I barely had time to sleep,” Stephanie said. “Hang out with my friends or go on dates? Maybe when I retire.”

According to a Pew Research Center study, two out of every three bachelor’s degree recipients will graduate with outstanding student loans.

Currently, millennial breadwinners hold almost $100,000 in debt, mostly in unpaid credit cards and student loans.

Stephanie holds one of each of the major four credit cards and about $25,000 in debt between the cards and student loans.

“Sometimes my loans didn’t go to paying school,” Stephanie said. “They went to groceries or mortgage payments.”

Serrano and Stephanie are graduating with bachelor’s degrees six years after they began, two years more than the average time it takes to complete the degree.

But Stephanie remains positive and plans to begin law school next fall.

“In the end, everything worked out,” Stephanie said. “It took longer than it should have, I stressed more than I should have and my grades could have been better. But the struggle made me smarter and tougher. Law school isn’t intimidating anymore, it’s nothing compared to what I’ve already been through.”

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INFO BOX

  • 20% of Millennials are financially supporting their parents
  • 55% have discussed the support they provide with the recipient of support
  • 26% feel overwhelmed by financial responsibilities
  • 27% had to lower career goals
  • 15% had to change jobs
  • 12% had to work a second job to make ends meet
  • 32% felt obliged to help
  • 28% felt frustrated

Source: TD Ameritrade Financial Support Study: Understanding Financial Obligations Across Generations

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