Millennials in McHenry County, nation struggle to live independently

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WOODSTOCK – At age 23, Elizabeth Skalecki is living with her mother in Woodstock.

She completed a few semesters at McHenry County College, and Columbia College in Chicago studying illustration, but said she could not afford to complete her degree.

Now with school debt and working part time at Classic Cinemas in Woodstock, Skalecki isn’t sure when she’ll be able to live independently of her family.

“I can’t afford my own place,” Skalecki said. “With what I make now, I barely cover my bills that I’ve been getting every month.”

According to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, Skalecki isn't the only millennial who is not living apart from her family.

The analysis showed millennials, defined as 18- to 34-year-olds, grew by nearly 3 million since 2007, but the number heading their own households has not increased. These numbers exclude people in that age range who are full-time college students.

The percent of people in that age range living independently decreased, from 69 percent in 2010 to 67 percent in the first four months of 2015, according to the analysis.

Jon Broadbooks, director of communications with the Illinois Association of Realtors, said it does not specifically track the number of millennials in Illinois or McHenry County who live independently of their families.

Kay Wirth, RE/MAX real estate agent in Crystal Lake, said she has worked with millennial clients many times as part of her 31 years in the county.

“I think that more aren’t living independently,” Wirth said, although she doesn’t believe this is negatively affecting the housing market in the county.

“Kind of the elephant in the room is the … college debt, where they just aren’t able to get ahead,” Wirth said.

She said inexperience and high expectations also are factors she has seen contribute to millennials not living independently.

Wirth said she is working with millennials who want to live independently of their families because they are married and looking to start their own families.

Rick O’Connor, of the Rick O’Connor Group in Crystal Lake, has been working in real estate in the county for 32 years. He said millennials are living less independently partly because they are more mobile and do not value a home as an investment.

“There isn’t that investment quality to it like there used to be,” O’Connor said. “ … The market’s better, but it’s still not good.”

O’Connor said members of that age group still are living independently of their families, but he sees more communal living.

Although the national unemployment rate for millennials has declined from 2010 to 2015, according to the Pew Research Center analysis, not working a high-enough-paying job also can be a reason why millennials aren’t living independently.

Barbara Billimack, lead adviser with the McHenry County Workforce Network Youth Program, said it helps 14- to 24-year-olds gain more skills and experience to find higher-paying jobs.

“It seems like the people who have come to our office are employed, so they’re able to find a job,” Billimack said. “But they’re not always able to find a job that they can afford to live independently.”

Nick Gonzalez, 22, is a full-time student at MCC living in Woodstock with his family and is in the workforce network program.

“Very few of my friends are able to live independently right now, and the ones that are are struggling to do so,” Gonzalez said.

He said transportation costs make it unaffordable for him also to live independently.

Skalecki also participated in the workforce’s youth program, and said she’d like to move out to prove she can live independently.

“It’s frustrating,” Skalecki said. “Just all this pressure to grow up and be an adult, and I’m trying, but it’s not coming together. I’m running into roadblocks, and it just makes me feel horrible about it.”