U.S. is back to renting

A "For Rent" sign taped to a window

Kai Ryssdal: The Census Bureau told us not too long ago that home ownership in this country has fallen to the lowest level in more than a decade. Not to cast aspersions on the good people at the census, but a better timeframe might be four decades. If you count all those people who aren't paying their mortgages right now, home ownership is as low as it's been since 1965.

That's the analysis from Morgan Stanley. And the way the U.S. housing market is right now, the question that follows is: Is that such bad thing?

Marketplace's Amy Scott reports.


Amy Scott: The official home ownership rate is about 66 percent. Minus those delinquencies, you get 59.7 percent. Morgan Stanley's Oliver Chang says foreclosures take so long these days, they're slow to show up in the numbers.

Oliver Chang: So we believe that the seven-and-a-half million people that are delinquent probably should not be counted as homeowners because in a more normal environment, they would already no longer be a homeowner.

No matter how you measure it, home ownership has fallen from its official peak: 69 percent in 2004. Chang says as a result, the U.S. is becoming a society of renters.

Chris Thronberg: The big question here is: Why do we care so much? What is wrong with renting?

That's analyst Christopher Thornberg with Beacon Economics. Advocates of the tarnished American Dream say ownership creates more stable communities and essentially forces families to save money. But Thornberg -- a homeowner -- says buying a house is sort of like buying a flatscreen TV. It's a luxury, not a necessity.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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