Who Are the Homeowners?

The Mortgage Corner

The Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank just published a housing study entitled, “It’s Not Just Millennials Who Aren’t Buying Homes,” that breaks down homeownership by age and household status. And the results show that age and whether one is head of a household makes a difference.

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Graph: Atlanta Fed

“In recent years, much attention has been focused on the growing tendency of millennials to rent,” says the Atlanta Fed study. “Theories for the decrease in homeownership among young adults abound. They include rising student debt levels that crowd out additional borrowing, a tendency to live in more urban areas where the cost to buy is relatively high, a generally tougher credit environment, and even shifts in the perception of homeownership in the wake of the housing bust.”

But in fact the homeownership rate has declined in all age brackets, except 65 + year-olds. Why is not clear. We know household incomes since 1980 have declined for all age brackets except seniors whose incomes are boosted by social security, Medicare, and other retirement benefits.

The study also shows that homeownership rates have actually returned to pre-housing bubble levels of 64 percent, the homeownership rate since the 1970s.

“The fact that the average U.S. homeownership rate is close to rates seen in the mid-1980s and mid-1990s while homeownership rates within age groups (under 65) are currently lower than their respective averages in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s suggests that factors other than age may be affecting the average person’s decision to buy or rent.”

I believe it has to be declining household incomes that haven’t yet returned to pre-recession levels, even with record low interest rates. According to the Federal Reserve, the median household income was $51,939 in 2013, below the 1999 peak of around $57,000. The Census Bureau estimated real median household income at $53,657 for 2014 and $54,462 in 2015. Household income varies by race, with Asians the highest in 2014 at over $74,000 and African Americans the lowest around $35,000.

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Graph: FRED

So household incomes have a long way to go to return to historic highs. A major reason has to be the soaring inequality that could take decades to correct; if and only if more progressive economic policies can be enacted—such as a wealth tax on large financial assets, and a higher maximum personal tax rate, which hasn’t yet even returned to 1980, Reagan era levels.

The nation’s aggregate household income has substantially shifted from middle-income to upper-income households, driven by the growing size of the upper-income tier and more rapid gains in income at the top. Fully 49 percent of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29 percent in 1970. The share accruing to middle-income households was 43 percent in 2014, down substantially from 62 percent in 1970.

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The bottom line is that married couple families still have the highest homeownership rate, whereas non-married singles have the lowest rate. What better reason to own a home than raising a family? And millennials are just now entering the age when they are beginning to form their own households, so their homeownership rate may also rise.

Harlan Green © 2016

Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

About populareconomicsblog

Harlan Green is editor/publisher of PopularEconomics.com, and content provider of 3 weekly columns to various blogs--Popular Economics Weekly and The Huffington Post
This entry was posted in Consumers, Housing, housing market, Politics, Weekly Financial News and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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