LAS VEGAS — On a hot August day, Candida and Anthony Warren's three grandchildren – ages 5, 7 and 10 – huddled on their living room floor with new backpacks and notebooks. The start of school was around the corner, and the room filled with excited shrieks as the children checked over their new school supplies.
These grandkids, plus a 10-month old baby, an adult daughter, an adult son and that son's fiancé, all live with the Warrens. That makes nine people from three generations living in a four-bedroom house. Anthony and Candida like to joke that they missed out on an empty nest.
"All our kids were grown and gone for three months,” Anthony Warren said. “And then everybody came home."
The Warrens' three grown children have each been hit hard by the recession.
Right after their last son left home a few years ago, their 31-year old daughter moved back in because she was having trouble supporting her three kids and herself. Things got even tougher when her casino job cut her hours. Then, last year, their son, 26, moved back when the auto plant he worked at in Virginia closed.
Now, he and his fiancé sleep in a double bed in the living room.
"Not very much privacy,” Candida Warren said. “But then again, with this household, you really don't expect to have privacy."
The Warrens' other son lost his home to foreclosure, but he is staying with an aunt since there is no more room left in the family home.
This isn’t what the Warrens were expecting for themselves or their children. Anthony Warren, 52, retired from the Army and thought he’d be getting ready to retire from his second career as a corrections officer at a nearby prison.
"Financially, I had a plan, as far as taking care of my wife, my home, vacationing, just being your average, retired older couple," Anthony Warren said.
But now he has a household of nine and is the only one with a full-time job. It means he's likely to work an extra decade at a physically demanding job.
"As far as retirement plans, of course it is changing my plans,” he said. “I will probably continue to work until I am at least 67."
The couple is taking the changes in stride.
"The most important thing is family," Candida Warren said. "That is what you have in the world."
According to recently released census figures, the Warrens' family situation is growing more common.
Eight percent of American children lived at a grandparent’s home in 2010. That’s a record high for at least the last 40 years, and more than double the rate in 1970. Demographers attribute that increase to a growing number of unemployed young parents who are relying on the older generation for help.
"We worry about the economic consequences of that, for older people, especially if they were in precarious economic situations," said Jennifer Keene, a sociologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who studies family structures. "You’re talking about feeding a larger family, utilities for a larger family, making a bigger family and all the economic responsibilities that go with that."
The increase in multi-generational families like the Warrens is particularly pronounced here in Nevada. These households grew by 70 percent over the last decade, according to the 2010 census.
In the past, grandparent-led households were seen disproportionately among certain groups, like African American grandmothers. But now, Keene says with the widespread impact of the recession, active grand-parenting is likely to increase across the board.
Across town, Olivia Fernandez, 63. shares a home with her two adult daughters and five grand kids. Born in the Philippines, Fernandez doesn’t think there is anything unusual about her living arrangement. But what she didn’t expect was that at her age, she'd be the sole breadwinner since her daughters are out of work. Every evening Fernandez takes a nap to get ready to work the graveyard shift.
"The kids know what time they will wake me up," Fernandez said. "One at a time they will come to me, Grandma, time to go to work, Grandma time to go to work."
Her job as a hotel receptionist pays just under $17 an hour, and it supports the whole family of eight.
"The truth, I want to retire now, I want to stop working, I just want to take care of the kids, I'm tired, but I have to, I have to."
What helps is that her sacrifice doesn't go unnoticed. Fernandez's granddaughter, Stella, often tells her grandma that she wants to become a famous actress so Fernandez won't have to worry about money.
"She says, 'Your not going to work anymore Grandma, I’m going to buy you a house. '" Fernandez said.
But until that happens, Fernandez will keep postponing retirement.