The number of homeowners is falling.
Renting is on the rise. As MSNBC reports, the number of housing units occupied by renters rose by 749,000 in the last quarter of 2011, according to Commerce Department figures. At the same time, home ownership rates have been falling, and are now down to their lowest levels since 1998. The graphic above highlights these trends (though, note that two different scales being used—an earlier version of this post missed that fact, and we apologize for any confusion on that score).
We've documented the downside of home ownership. As colleague Emily Badger wrote "home ownership is out in the new economy. It’s now a liability, not an ambition." As she explains:
Homeowners are no happier than renters. They're certainly more stressed out. High home ownership in industrialized countries has even been correlated with unemployment, suggesting that home ownership—long believed to be a central determinant in creating healthy and vibrant communities—may actually be preventing some of the people in those communities from achieving the other American dream: having a job.
Worst of all, home ownership fails to live up to one of its greatest selling points. Yale economist Robert Shiller has figured out that from 1890 to 1990, the rate of return on residential real estate in America, after counting for inflation, essentially amounted to nothing. "I can’t help but wonder," Atlantic Cities colleague Richard Florida has written, "if this dream doesn’t belong to a bygone industrial era."