If the economy still feels stuck, blame the housing market.
may not match how people in a handful of big, prosperous cities see things.
After a disastrous and historic crash, housing is booming in places like San
Francisco and New York. Bidding wars are back, and the question is not whether
the real estate market is recovering but whether new bubbles are inflating.
there’s another reality that is more important for the national economy. Except
in a few booming markets, housing is nowhere close to pulling its economic
weight. Consider this:
in residential property remains a smaller share of the overall economy than at
any time since World War II, contributing less to growth than it did even in
previous steep downturns in the early 1980s, when mortgage rates hit 20
percent, or the early 1990s, when hundreds of mortgage lenders failed.
If building activity returned merely to its postwar average
proportion of the economy, growth would jump this year to a booming, 1990s-like
level of 4 percent, from today’s mediocre 2-plus percent. The additional building,
renovating and selling of homes would add about 1.5 million jobs and knock
about a percentage point off the unemployment rate, now 6.7 percent. That activity would close
nearly 40 percent of the gap between America’s current weak economic state and
full economic health.
So what is holding housing back?
a glut of housing was built during the last great mania, and in some markets buyers
are still working through those supplies. Bank lending is only now thawing,
both for homebuilders and buyers. But those restraining factors have eased a
lot in the last few years. The bigger thing holding back housing is simply
demand. Fewer people can or want to fulfill the American dream of starting a
household of their own.
may yet prove to be temporary, but for now at least, millions more people are
doubling up with roommates, living at home with parents and otherwise finding
ways to avoid doing the one thing that would get the housing economy back to
normal: buying a home.
Click here for the full
column by Neil Irwin in the New York Times.