The Deadbeat Millennial: Who is Really to Blame When a 30-Something Still Lives at Home?

Michael Rotondo is a walking stereotype, which is why his story is so appealing — and misleading

The tale of Michael Rotondo, the 30-year-old man whose parents took him to court to evict him after he refused to get a job or help around the house, is by all accounts the tale of a deadbeat — but who is at fault?

Rotondo's parents gave him five notices that they were evicting him after he lived in their house rent-free for eight years, according to CNN. Based on the documents provided to the court, Rotondo's parents were more than reasonable with him, giving him money to help him get started and offering to assist him in finding his own place. It was only after he continued to come up with excuses to not find a job, remained unwilling to leave and ignored multiple warnings from them that they finally took him to court, where a judge on Tuesday sided with them and told him he had to get out.

In this version of the story, the younger Rotondo deserves no sympathy.

What makes the breathless coverage of the Rotondo story ever so uncomfortable is that it seems perfectly designed to reinforce pernicious stereotypes about both liberals and millennials. Take these posts from a comments section under the Fox News article covering this incident.

"Do any of you also think this Family votes for the Democrat Party?!? I think it would be safe to say that they do. LMMFAO"

"Rotondo the Junior could be a poster boy for the Democratic Party."

"Claims he runs a successful business but claims poor status so he doesn't have to pay court fees... hmmm... there you have it, a 30 year old basement dwelling liberal.."

"Typical liberal snowflake mooch."

"This is a perfect example of liberal parenting gone amok!!! They are getting exactley what they deserve!! If you sow evil seeds, you will reap rotten crops!!! I find this completely hilarious!!! I remember when I was 18 or maybe 19 I was living at home, we had a 4500sq' house so my parents didnt really care. As long as I followed THEIR rules, and worked (I was saving money for college) I quit my job because I hated it. My dads comment? 'I would like to commend you for saving so much you dont need to work I guess you have your tuition saved?"

One commenter also joked that "maybe Bernie will come save him ... LOL," employing one of the most popular stereotypes that liberals want handouts from the government and others in society rather than having to work for a living.

When people say that liberals support mooching, they are using a straw man argument. Because moochers do exist in this world, however, the laws of probability dictate that some of them will wind up being liberal, just as some won't. The fact that Rotondo happened to be a liberal doesn't prove liberals are moochers anymore than the existence of a conservative racist confirms the left-wing stereotype that all right-wingers are bigots.

I was recently able to interview Bernie Sanders' campaign manager Jeff Weaver about his book "How Bernie Won," a text that sheds some light on what American liberals actually believe. Specifically, the book argues that modern American liberalism is really an attempt to return to the political ideals embodied in President Franklin Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union address. The section excerpted below is colloquially referred to as the "Second Bill of Rights" and argues not that people should be able to live off others, but rather that anyone who is willing to work should be able to find a job and support himself or herself off of their labor.

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people — whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth — is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights — among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however — as our industrial economy expanded — these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

The mischaracterization of millennials at play with the coverage of Rotondo is equally problematic.

While liberals are no more likely than other people to be moochers, millennials are indeed much more likely than previous generations to continue living with their parents when they're still in the 25-to-35 age range. As of 2016, 15 percent of millennials within that group still lived in their parents' homes, by far the highest that number has been in more than 50 years. It's why the term "The Boomerang Generation" has become a thing.

For this, we can thank the Great Recession.

As a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis pointed out earlier this year, Americans born during the 1980s were uniquely vulnerable when the Great Recession began in the late-2000s and have consequently faced unique hardships in coming to their own as adults. People who were in their late 20s or early 30s in 2016 were the only age group that continued to lose financial ground after the recession ended.

"This represents a missed opportunity because asset appreciation is unlikely to be as rapid in the near future as it was during the recent period," the study pointed out. Another section near the end of the report deserves to be quoted in full:

Families whose heads were born in the 1980s are different. They generally were too young to be homeowners during the housing bubble; in fact, only 19 percent of 1980s families were homeowners in 2007. Even by 2016, fewer than 45 percent of 1980s families were homeowners. The predominant type of debt they owe is non-mortgage debt, including student loans, auto loans and credit card debt. Because none of these types of debt finance assets that have appreciated rapidly during the last few years—such as stocks and real estate—they have received no leveraged wealth boost like that enjoyed by older cohorts. The 1980s cohort was unique in falling even further behind its wealth benchmark between 2010 and 2016. Given the prospect of lower asset returns in the future than in the recent past, 1980s families face a formidable challenge in building wealth rapidly enough to reach benchmark levels set by earlier generations.

Despite these economic facts, people who were lucky enough to not come of age during the nadir of the Great Recession still continue to heap unrealistic economic expectations on millennials born in the 1980s.

Earlier this month, MarketWatch became a target of ridicule when it wrote that by the age of 35, millennials should have twice their current salary saved up. This may have been the norm during the Baby Boomer era or for members of Generation X, but for millions of Americans who entered the economy in 2008 or the years immediately thereafter, the notion that this would be feasible is downright ludicrous.

So by all means, throw your metaphorical tomatoes at Michael Rotondo. If it makes you feel better about yourself, poke fun at his shameful laziness and his brazen sense of entitlement. But if you're clicking on this story and lapping it up because it confirms your assumptions about liberals and millennials, you may want to ask, "who is really at fault?"

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Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon.