A 'sold' sign stands outside a home in Pasadena, Calif.
A 'sold' sign stands outside a home in Pasadena, Calif. - 
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Kai Ryssdal: If this is Monday, it must be time for more contradictory numbers about the housing market. The Commerce Department said today that sales of new homes jumped almost 24 percent last month. Lovely, 'til you read the fine print. The rebound followed a huge decline in May, brought about by the end of that first-time home buyer tax credit you heard so much about. The housing market's either getting better. Or it's not. But what difference might that really make?

We asked Marketplace's Amy Scott to find out exactly how housing fits into the economy these days anyway.

Amy Scott: For a while there, the housing market was showing signs of recovery. But last month, sales of existing homes fell about 5 percent. And despite a monthly boost in new home buying, sales were down more than 16 percent compared to the year before.

Christopher Thornberg: The question of course is why are things starting to slump again? And the answer is, of course, that the reason the market was bouncing in the first place, have come to an end.

That's Christopher Thornberg of Beacon Economics. One good thing about a shrunken housing market is that another slump can't do as much damage to the overall economy.

Cary Leahey is with Decision Economics. He says in 2006, new home construction made up 6 percent of GDP. Now it's 2 percent.

Cary Leahey: So right now this sector is only one-third the size of what it was four years ago, which is an extraordinary development.

With some serious fallout, millions of lost jobs and billions of lost tax revenue. Robert Helsley is a real estate economist at UC Berkeley. He's concerned about the long-term consequences of lost housing wealth.

Robert Helsley: One way that people have made the transition, for example, from retired life to let's say life in assisted living facilities is by cashing out the equity in their homes. What happens if that equity's not there?

Economist Chris Thornberg says a real housing recovery will be long and slow. But he says it should be -- the economy is still in its "comeuppance phase" after years of easy money.

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

Follow Amy Scott at @amyreports