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Homeward bound: pandemic drives young Americans back to parents

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New York (AFP)

As if being part of "Generation Z" wasn't complicated enough, life for millions of young adults has been upended as the coronavirus forces them to retreat from shuttered workplaces and desolate college campuses into the arms of their parents.

The pandemic cutting a deadly swathe through more than 150 countries has imposed a new reality of shelter-in-place orders and social distancing on frightened communities.

But it has paradoxically brought many families closer than ever as empty nesters welcome back grown children who have decided to ride out the quickening drumbeat of infections, death and mounting economic meltdown in the comfort of their childhood homes.

"I feel as if I've walked back into adolescence," said Joselynn Guzman, 21, who has returned to the bosom of her family in California.

"But with this quarantine I think it is safe to say that this seems to be the general emotion of the whole country," she added.

The United States -- the worst-hit country in the world -- has registered almost 220,000 cases and more than 5,000 deaths since the outbreak fanned out from China.

Around 15 million students in the United States have been affected by coronavirus prevention measures, according to consultancy firm Entangled Solutions.

Most have experienced the closure of university premises and a switch to online classes.

Guzman, the younger of two daughters of Mexican immigrants, chose to attend Chico State University, in Chico, California, eight hours from her family home, in Riverside.

She found a job as a cashier, but lost it when the deadly new virus started spreading across the US.

Guzman is completing the last semester of her sociology degree online before graduating this summer.

She says she feels "weirdly" dependent being back in her family home.

"Something about living under your parents' roof wakes up the child in me," she said.

Lauren Dalton, a first-year nursing student at Kent State University in Ohio, where she is free to come and go as she pleases, is also struggling with returning to her parents.

"I'm faced with an entire inquisition when I grab my keys to leave, with my parents wanting to know who I'm going to be with, where I'm going, when I'm coming home, and what I'm going to be doing," she said.

- Exacerbating fears -

Kellie Lail, a 22-year-old student at Oklahoma State University, left her parents' home five years ago and had no plans to return, even when her campus closed and her two jobs disappeared.

In the last year of studying for a master's degree in biology and chemistry, Lail was working at the university gym and at a hospital for children.

The first job went when the campus was closed and the second has been put on hold because it is not considered essential.

She moved back with her parents after her roommate, a medical expert specializing in veins, started coming into contact with coronavirus patients.

Lail's parents asked her to return to her hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma, because their daughter has immune deficiency.

She had planned to take a sabbatical year and visit the Cannes Film Festival before starting medicine but all plans are now on hold.

"I do plan on leaving as soon as all of this slows down," she said.

Wynter March, a second-year student in information technology at the University of Missouri, is back with her parents in Saint Louis.

"I wish I did not have to come back home. When you've become so accustomed to living on your own it's weird to have to come home and follow rules," she said.

Professor Corey Seemiller, an expert on Generation Z, which describes people born from the mid-1990s, says the experience of living through coronavirus and moving back home could affect them for a while.

"In the long run, what happens in a person's adolescence and early adulthood tends to shape the way they see and navigate the world for much of their lives," said Seemiller, of Wright State University.

The group's older members, who are now entering the workforce, were "already highly concerned about money and relatively risk averse," she said.

"Both the pandemic and the response are likely to exacerbate their fears a bit," Seemiller added.

- 'I had a plan!" -

Sage, 22, who had to leave the Portland State campus in Oregon, also laments her change of circumstances.

"I had a plan! I had a job lined up for after graduation!" she said.

Sage, who suffers psychiatric issues, had found a balance at university between seeing her therapist, taking hikes, volunteering at an animal shelter and working as a librarian.

Back at her parent's home in Ashland, she finds a tense atmosphere, exacerbated by being confined to the house.

"I have no idea what the world will look like when this is over. Will I be able to find a job? Will I be able to find an apartment?" she asked.

"Will I be mentally stable enough to go back to school?"

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