Homeownership collapsing, threatening economy

Owning your own home in America used to be a large part of the American Dream. The rate of home ownership hit an all time high of 69% in 2004 and 2005.

But those days are long gone. Today, after years of recession and the burst housing bubble, fewer than 65% of Americans own their own house.And for some age groups, the last decade has been a catastrophe.

Derek Thompson, writing in the Atlantic:

The U.S. homeownership rate has fallen to a 19-year low. Why?

Let's begin with the youths, as we must. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a journalist in possession of a negative statistic must find a way to blame Millennials for it. In 2012, Jordan Weissmann and I observed that young people were turning away from homes and cars, the twin engines of the economy. Two years later, the homeownership rate is still declining for Americans under 35 (most of whom are Millennials, i.e. born between 1982 and 2000).

But there's another cohort turning away from homes even faster—Gen-X. That's right, Americans between 35 and 44 have had the sharpest drop in homeownership since the recession struck, far outpacing the national rate. (Pedant's note: Some people like to leave hateful comments about Y-axes that don't begin at zero, but it's almost impossible to see homeownership changes at that scale, so we're repeatedly violating that rule throughout this post.)

Draw back the lens to 1994 to study the 20-year change in homeownership, and the evaporation of ownership among this age group is even more surprising. The entire country rode the roller-coaster of the 2000s, during which the total homeownership rate cracked 69 percent in 2004 and 2005. Since then, it's been one long tumble down the other side of the mountain. But for 30- and 40-somethings, the fall has been particularly steep.

At a time in their lives when they should be stepping up into middle and upper management positions, Gen Xers and Millenials are unemployed or under employed. And it gets worse:

Indeed, if you reproduce this experiment for every age cohort, you arrive at a surprising picture (for Millennial critics, at least). In the last 20 years, homeownership has fallen less for young people than for any other age group under 64. Today's historically low homeownership rate isn't the result of the cheapest generation abandoning the housing market. It's their older cousins, Generation-X, who are really running for the exits.

Owning a home is the best way fror the middle class to build wealth. But Generation X and to a lesser extent, Millenials, are not able to go that route thanks to the sky high price of housing in many areas and their limited bank accounts. When Baby Boomers hit retirement age, far fewer workers will be paying into Social Security and Medicare, thus accelerating the unsustainability of those programs. And how you going to raise taxes to pay for the shortfall when there is much less wealth in the generations following?

Home ownhership is one of the largest forces that drive the economy. As long as housing sales remain sluggish, growth in the economy will reflect that. It means fewer jobs for the very people most affected by the bursting of the housing bubble. The generations following are going to end up less wealthy, and less able to fund a secure and comfortable retirement.

The American Dream is slipping away for millions. It's hard to see at this point how these trends can be reversed.


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