Yesterday’s housing news — a July decline of 27 percent in sales of existing housing, about twice as deep as predicted — added to the sense that the economic recovery has stalled. A big part of the decline can be explained by the fact that federal tax subsidies for homebuyers ended in June. People who wanted or needed to buy a home had jumped into the market earlier, while the $8,000 tax credit was still in effect, leaving demand in July to collapse.
The fact that housing prices nonetheless rose slightly last month over a year ago, suggesting that the prices being demanded by sellers still have not come into balance with the prices that buyers are willing to pay.
(On a side note, the Christian Science Monitor has identified six cities in which housing prices are actually rising. Atlanta is not among them. In the healthiest housing market in the country, median prices actually rose 17 percent in the second quarter of 2010 compared to a year earlier. So load up your U-Haul, folks, and shuffle off to Buffalo, NY!)
Realistically, there’s not much that anybody can do to reverse the national trend. The well-intended housing credit, for example, did little more than delay the necessary correction between supply and demand. We are experiencing the inevitably painful hangover that follows a major housing binge, a disaster created by a combination of greed, corruption, bad government policies and willful, eager ignorance by almost every party involved, as the chart below illustrates.
Also yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office released its latest, legally mandated estimate of the effect of the Obama stimulus package on the economy through the second quarter of 2010. As bad as things are, the CBO found, they would be a lot worse without the stimulus.
According to the CBO, the stimulus package:
Raised the level of real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by between 1.7 percent and 4.5 percent, Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points, Increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million, Increased the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) jobs by 2.0 million to 4.8 million compared with what those amounts would have been otherwise. (Increases in FTE jobs include shifts from part-time to full-time work or overtime and are thus generally larger than increases in the number of employed workers.)
The CBO also updated its estimate of the stimulus package’s impact on the debt, estimating that it will add $819 billion through 2019. For comparison’s sake, another CBO estimate last week put the cost of the Iraq War at $700 billion between 2003 and 2010, a number that does not include interest costs.