America's homeownership rate has been declining for several years, and for multiple reasons, some tied directly to the housing collapse. For one class of would-be homeowners, it's simply harder today to qualify for a mortgage than it was at the height of the housing boom. For another, the allure of homeownership itself has declined. And then of course there are people who were homeowners until the crash nudged them off of their property.
The steady drop in American homeownership, however, predates the recession and the housing crash. As of the latest housing data released today by the Census Bureau, through the second quarter of 2013, this is what the trend looks like:
Nationwide, the homeownership rate is now at 65 percent, half a point below where it was at this time last year, and back down to where it was around 1995. Like some other consumer patterns we recently wrote about, homeownership appears to have peaked a few years ahead of the crash, around 2004. Across the country, the annual trend lines look pretty similar over the last 20 years, even though homeownership rates in the Midwest and South are notably higher than they are in the Northeast and West (declines in the Northeast have been the smallest).
Splice the data another way, and nearly every age demographic and ethnicity has also experienced a decline.
As Jed Kolko noted, young people still stuck living with their parents since the start of the recession haven't been forming their own households at the rate they have in the past. And so many of them aren't becoming homeowners, either. But homeownership has also been ticking down for some time for all of the demographics above them, including baby boomers, with the lone exception of retirees over 65.
Realtors will likely look at these trends and fret. And as Richard Florida has noted, we have traditionally considered homeownership to be a sign of the health of the economy. But some of these people who would have been homeowners 10 years ago may also have concluded that they would rather rent anyway to preserve their mobility in a different kind of economy.