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Bank of Mom and Dad Shuts Amid White-Collar Struggle

When Maurice Johnson was laid off a year ago from his six-figure salary as a managing director at GE Capital, it wasn’t his future he was worried about.

It was his children’s.

The family income of the Johnsons is a fifth of what it used to be. And the children are about to feel the pain. Mr. Johnson’s two oldest are attending his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, at an annual cost of $50,000 apiece. And his youngest daughter, 15 years old, recently began her own college search. Mr. Johnson isn’t sure whether he’ll be able to help her to go to college, or even to get the older kids to graduation.

Mr. Johnson, who watched his own father struggle as an engineer without a college degree, was determined to do better for his own children.

“We saved like crazy from the minute they were born,” he says. “Then, it all fell to pieces.”

Many families such as the Johnsons—upper-middle-class professionals—are suddenly downwardly mobile. For years, they used rising family wealth to help foot the bill for college, down payments for houses and start-up cash for children’s careers. But pay cuts, layoffs and the decadelong flatlining of the stock market mean many families can no longer help their children.

This comes as young adults could use a financial helping hand more than ever. The unemployment rate for workers ages 16 to 29 was 15.2% in March, the highest rate since 1948, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s almost a double whammy,” says Ann Huff Stevens, an economics professor at the University of California at Davis. “If a parent goes through a job loss, they’re going to contribute less. And there’s a direct effect because kids themselves are earning less, too. A recession like this might have some lasting effects for parents and kids.”

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Desh Kapoor

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