That explains a lot, economically as well as politically.
The chart above, from Calculated Risk, breaks out housing equity by state. In Nevada, for example, almost 70 percent of homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. How many of those folks are going to be in the mood to spend money, generating the demand needed to restart the economy? Compounding the problem, Nevada also happens to have the country’s worst unemployment rate, at 14.3 percent in July. A lot of those jobless Nevadans couldn’t relocate for a job even if they found one, not without taking a huge financial hit on their home. That’s a lot of pain and sleepless nights, and cause for a lot of anger as well.
Georgia is sixth, right after California, with almost 30 percent of homeowners under water and another good chunk barely staying afloat. (Ga. unemployment rate: 9.9 percent). An economy that for years was fueled by homeowners who used their houses as ATMs has become an economy in which housing has become a huge anchor, in more ways than one. Millions of homeowners face the difficult choice of continuing to dump money into a house that they know is a bad investment or just walking away.
That also puts into perspective the latest “regional snapshot” from the Atlanta Regional Commission. “Since the recession began more than two years ago, the 10-county region has added approximately 56,000 people, which is the slowest growth period in the region since the 1950s,” ARC reports. “The Atlanta region’s slowdown is directly attributable to the national economy. During weak economic periods, people don’t move as much for several reasons. Job opportunities are slim, meaning people don’t move to take new jobs. And, with the housing market in such disarray, it is hard to sell a house, which tends to keep people stationary.”
There ain’t no Santa Claus, there ain’t no Easter Bunny, and there ain’t no easy, quick solution to problems like this one.
UPDATE: In an analysis of Michael Lewis’ best-seller “The Big Short,” economic analyst Paul Willen of the Federal Reserve traces the collapse of the Wall Street bond market to the same basic problem: housing prices.
“Subprime bulls bought the bonds because careful research based on vast amounts of loan-level data using state-of-the-art models … showed that if house prices continued to behave as they had for the previous ten years, the bonds would perform well. The research also showed that if house prices collapsed, investors would lose big, but, after ten years of solid appreciation in house prices, researchers viewed a big fall as unlikely.”
Willen and his co-authors also cite an August 2005 analysis of the housing bond market by researchers at Lehman Brothers. The researchers estimated only a 5 percent chance of a “meltdown scenario,” which they defined as a market in which housing prices fell by 5 percent a year. The actual meltdown — only months away at the time — saw housing prices fall by 10 percent a year, twice as bad as the worst-case scenario. It also saw Lehman Brothers disappear altogether.
Here’s another chart, documenting the housing boom and subsequent collapse, by Steve Barry via Barry Ritholz and The Big Picture. Ominously, it suggests that housing values are STILL well above historic levels of the past century, after adjusting for inflation.