Stat of the Day: The Lost Decade of Home Ownership

Latest Census Figures Paint Sobering Picture of Slow, Uneven Recovery

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After six seasons of "Lost" on ABC, we learned that maybe no one survived the plane crash after all and instead had existed in a sort of purgatory. Or not. That will forever be debated. That's not the kind of "lost decade" economists tend to talk about, but it's easy to look back at what the Census Bureau today shows us about the last 10 years and draw some parallels. For much of the decade we thought, as a nation, that we were moving forward, but most of us wound up treading water and at the very least few found themselves where they expected to be once 2010 rolled around.

Since spring, we have been seeing piecemeal Census 2010 data hinting at some sobering figures. Population growth in the last decade was low. Household formation, a key driver of spending, was at its lowest growth rate on record. We added 27.3 million people, but only 11.2 million households. Birth rates, especially among younger moms, have fallen. The iconic American family -- married couples with kids -- are now just one in five households.

With today's release of what the Census calls the Summary File 1 for all states, we can get a more detailed picture of what happened to housing and households in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010.

It's not a pretty picture. In a typical decade almost all of these numbers would have shown growth. Seeing shrinkage shows just how the economy has laid the nation out in the tail end of the decade. It all points to a slow, uneven recovery.

Who owns? Who rents?
As the housing bubble and foreclosure crisis wiped out gains from the first half of the decade, we wound up with a decline in the overall home-ownership rate from 66.2% of households to 65.1%. That's actually less of a decline than we might expect after such a significant crash -- and it overlooks all the problems of home "owners" who have negative equity. But there are some interesting signs in the data as well.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The home-ownership rates for the fast-growing Hispanic population ticked up slightly from 45.7% to 47.3% of households. This would seem to indicate that some at least are holding their own in this recession and planting deeper roots in our communities as they move from a first-generation immigrant population into a second and third generation and raising U.S.-born families at a high rate -- though their birthrates have fallen recently as well.

African Americans didn't fare so well, as their home-ownership rate dropped from 46.6% to 44.6%. White home ownership managed to escape relatively unscathed.

In terms of share of the population, the Hispanic portion of the population grew 3.8%, but Hispanic homeowners only grew 1.6%. In actual numbers, the total owner households increased an impressive 52% -- faster than the 43% population growth.

So what do we take away from this? The relative affluence coupled with the more advanced age of whites helped insulate them, somewhat, from the housing crisis by shielding them from the worst of the mortgage woes. African Americans, who were hit especially hard by job and therefore economic losses in the industrial Midwest, had their housing noticeably affected -- which lead to the mass southward migration we saw in the last 10 years. The renter population grew nearly twice as fast as the owner population. Hispanics, meanwhile moved more into the suburbs during the past decade and were purchasing homes at an increasing rate as their population, especially the native-born segment, continued to boom.

Changing face of the family
Next, let's take a look ahead to Census 2020: the family household. We've known for sometime that the face of the American family is undergoing dramatic shifts but to see a net decrease of 1.2 million married households with kids -- nearly half of that coming in the households with the youngest kids -- is a stark reminder of just how profound this change is . As four in 10 children are now born in households with no husband present, we see large gains in the number of female-headed households with kids of all age ranges. This will have a sizable impact on both spending and creative strategies for packaged goods, restaurants, education and childcare, and of course any products aimed squarely at kids. Look for grandparent spending to shift as well as the affluent boomers help step in to fill some of the gaps from missing income-producing dads.

The Changing Face of                                         Family

Houses expand and shrink
Finally, we'll take a peek at an issue near and dear to my expanding-household-heart: household size. The type of household that showed the biggest percent gains was the seven-or-more-person household -- up 23% in the last decade. Six-person households grew 16.6% and single-person households grew 14.6%. All of these are bad economic trends that we've discussed but now we have some more data points to add to the chart. There's the growth in multigenerational housing for economic reasons: The millennials are moving back home, or delaying forming their own households. Boomers are taking in their millennial kids. Pre-boomers are moving in with their Gen-X kids to cut costs and to get assistance in day-to-day household living while avoiding costly retirement communities. There's the rise in multigenerational homes due to cultural and economic reasons in the Hispanic community. And we have to assume that the record levels of multiple births factors in as well.

None of this is to say that we won't bounce back as an economy, but it might be worth looking at some new ways to drive some growth, and it might be worth rethinking the speed at which that return will come.

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