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An independent entrepreneur adjusts to the rules of life with her parents

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We've been doing this short series about how the pandemic has forced some young people to move back in with their parents. Today, NPR's Claire Murashima has the story about a Korean American entrepreneur in St. Louis, Mo., trying to deal with the rules of living at home again.

CLAIRE MURASHIMA, BYLINE: Monica Lee is 28 and lives with her sister, parents and 97-year-old grandmother. Things aren't always easy.

MONICA LEE: It's definitely tough with the generational clashes, with the language and cultural barriers as well.

MURASHIMA: Before the pandemic, she worked a PR job in China.

LEE: I mean, it was very corporate - you know, going into the office every day, long hours, good pay. I had roommates. You know, I would meal-prep by myself.

MURASHIMA: Now she lives at home and runs the Korean dessert cafe she opened earlier this year. She makes bubble tea and sweets inspired by her travels in Asia. Her favorite - bingsu, a shaved ice dessert topped with things like chocolate, fruit and sweetened condensed milk. Things are working out.

LEE: Out of our bingsu, I say our strawberry mango for right now.

You know, how could I not bring work home with me when I just started a cafe?

MURASHIMA: She has 12 employees, but at home, Monica says things feel a lot like they did when she was a teenager.

LEE: On my way out the door, I had to let my parents know where I'm going and then answer all their questions of, who are you meeting? What time will you be home? And then if I just said, I don't know, it's not an acceptable answer to them.

MURASHIMA: Many millennials and zoomers were living on their own before the pandemic, but almost a third of them moved back home after it hit. Two-thirds of those are still there and still trying to strike a balance between child and roommate.

LEE: I don't feel comfortable dating as much right now because of that lack of privacy.

MURASHIMA: Natasha Pilkauskas teaches public policy at the University of Michigan.

NATASHA PILKAUSKAS: Another thing that also explains part of the increase is that marriage rates have declined.

MURASHIMA: Pilkauskas says that nonwhite families are more likely to live with two or more generations under the same roof. And as the U.S. gets more diverse, multigenerational living will likely become more common. That squares with Monica's experience.

LEE: So I'm Korean American, and for a lot of Koreans, living at home up until you get married is super common, and it's not necessarily frowned upon. But, you know, I was born and raised in St Louis. And Americans - we tend to be a lot more independent. And myself personally, I am very independent because, you know, I moved across the world.

MURASHIMA: But starting a business means earning less, and that's meant adjusting to life without the independence and privacy she once enjoyed. Many of her employees are also young people who live with their parents.

LEE: My employees started just coming in to hang out in their free time, and I would remind them that they're not getting paid for the time they're there. And they say, yeah, we know. We just can't stay at home.

MURASHIMA: For Monica, it's a trade-off she's willing to make.

LEE: The money I'm saving is incredible, especially with how expensive things are and have been. And I certainly couldn't have started a new business without this situation that I'm in.

All right. Your total's going to be 14.01.

MURASHIMA: So for now, she's not even thinking about buying a house. That's all in the future. She's just focused on making payroll.

Claire Murashima, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claire Murashima
Claire Murashima is a production assistant on Morning Edition and Up First. Before that, she worked on How I Built This, NPR's Team Atlas and Michigan Radio. She graduated from Calvin University.