They range in ages and income levels. Some are divorced, others never married. But they all have one thing in common: They are adult children living at home with their parents.

It's not a crazy notion. Since 1970, the percentage of people ages 18 to 34 who live at home with their parents increased 48 percent nationwide, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The practice is the focus of the movie Failure to Launch , starring Matthew McConaughey as a 35-year-old living at home with his parents.

But there's no need to turn to Hollywood for tales of children who returned to the parental nest or never left in the first place. It's playing out in basements and spare rooms and carriage houses all over.

“I'm thinking this may be a trend,” says Neal Hartshorne, 42, who lives with his parents in the Northville home where he was raised and works in a stained glass shop as a craftsman. “In this economy, a lot of people are needing help. I don't make much money, so it's not sensible for me to move out.”

Hartshorne is what real estate representatives often call a boomerang kid – those who tried life on their own but came back to the nest. However, he wasn't gone too long. Right after high school, he moved to Chicago to attend a trade school. He was back home after one semester.

Harry Hartshorne says he never thought of kicking his son out and doesn't think Neal's motivated enough to find the additional employment necessary to live on his own. Harry isn't complaining, though.

Neal keeps the grass cut, shovels the snow, does his own laundry and cooks for himself.

For tax purposes, Harry says his son pays rent – $50 per month. “Him living here is not a problem for us,” adds Harry. “It may be a problem for him, but he's not anxious to solve it. He couldn't survive if he wasn't living here.”

Patti Sherman, the mother of a 27-year-old son still at home thinks she knows what keeps her son home – more expensive toilet paper. Don Sherman, the second child of four ranging in ages from 25 to 30, seems very comfortable and has no intention of moving out, she says. He's been a student at Wayne State University for 10 years.

Don is working on his doctorate in biomedical engineering and wants to go to law school when he's done with his Ph.D. He lived near campus for about 18 months but experienced an apartment fire in 1999 and returned home. He promised his parents it would only be until he found another place. He did – home.

His parents don't charge him any rent, but he supplements his income by working as a graduate research assistant. He also teaches middle school science as a substitute teacher.

“We think he's gotten comfortable and don't think he's ever going to leave,” Patti Sherman says. “But he's real good about paying his own way, things like his car payment and cell phone. We don't feel that we need to charge him as long as he's a student.”

Sherman and her husband, Gary, live in a five-bedroom colonial. They bought the house because they wanted all their children to have their own bedroom. They didn't know the bedrooms would still be occupied with adult children years later.

Their other son, Peter, 25, moved out only a year ago. She started charging him rent – $100 a month – but he was still resistant, having lived at home since graduating from high school.

“I feel very fortunate that I'm as close to my kids as I am, and they do enjoy being around me. Most adults can't wait to get away from home,” Sherman says

“Still, I think it's every young person's right of passage to be out on their own and living their lives. When they're here, you tend to be an enabler. At some point, they need to be out and on their own.”

© 2006, Detroit Free Press.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.