The economic recession that began with the collapse of the housing market in 2007 officially came to an end in June 2009—more than six years ago. But by most indications, American households are significantly worse off than they were at the depth of the downturn. Despite the drop in the official unemployment rate, household incomes have fallen, wages have stagnated and student loan debt has soared.
A study by Harvard University’s Joint Center For Housing Studies released on Wednesday points to another sign of the widespread economic distress affecting broad sections of the US population: the persistent fall in the share of households who are able to achieve the “American Dream” of homeownership.
According to “The State of the Nation’s Housing 2015,” the share of American households who owned their own home fell to 64.5 percent last year, the lowest level in two decades, based US Census data. This was down from a homeownership rate of over 69 percent in 2004, and was unchanged from the homeownership rate in 1985, three decades ago.
The fall in homeownership was prevalent in all age groups, but younger households were among the most affected. The ownership rate for 35-44 year-olds was down 5.4 percentage points from 1993, and has hit a level not seen since the 1960s. Only slightly more than one-third of households headed by those aged 25-35 owned their own homes.
The report attributed the continuous decline in homeownership to falling incomes, persistent long-term unemployment and a significant tightening of credit.
As the report notes, “Despite steady job growth since 2010 and a drop in unemployment to less than 6 percent, the labor market recovery has yet to generate meaningful income gains. At last measure in 2013, median household income was $51,900—still 8 percent below the 2007 level in real terms and equivalent to 1995 levels.”