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Is cost of housing the culprit for pessimism about economy?

Samantha Fields Dec 12, 2023
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Rents have gone up almost 30% just in the last couple of years. And high mortgage rates mean buying is out of reach for many current renters. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Is cost of housing the culprit for pessimism about economy?

Samantha Fields Dec 12, 2023
Heard on:
Rents have gone up almost 30% just in the last couple of years. And high mortgage rates mean buying is out of reach for many current renters. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Inflation cooled a little more in November. Prices were up 3.1% year over year, compared to 3.2% in October.  The largest factor driving inflation last month, as it has been for awhile now, was shelter. The cost of housing — both rent, and owners’ equivalent rent — continues to rise. 

That may be one of the reasons so many people are pessimistic about this economy right now, even though the data’s telling us it’s good.  

How much you think about the cost of housing probably depends on whether you own a home. About two thirds of American households do, and Christopher Mayer at Columbia Business School says most of them now have a mortgage rate that’s under 4%. 

So chances are, if you’re an owner, you’re facing very low housing costs, he said. Which is great for a lot of people, but, Mayer said, maybe not for everyone.

“For many owners, they’re also kind of locked into their home,” he said. Because who wants to give up a 3% or 4% mortgage for one that’s 7% or 8%, especially when home prices have also gone up.

“And so that dynamic I think, has a lot of people feeling like housing is a burden on them,” Mayer said.

For people who don’t own a home yet, the burden is even bigger. Rents have gone up almost 30% just in the last couple of years — much more than incomes. 

And with home prices and mortgage rates also way up, buying a house has gotten increasingly unaffordable. A recent study from Redfin found it’s now cheaper to rent than buy in almost every major metro area in the country.

Cameron LaPoint at the Yale School of Management says that’s hard for a lot of people to hear.  

“If you tell people that, you know, they’re more likely to be better off renting versus owning, it feels a little bit like a dream of theirs has been closed off to them,” he said. Which never feels good. 

Erik Lundh, a principal economist at The Conference Board, says all of that is a big piece of the psychological puzzle right now. But it’s not the only one.

“We saw food prices and energy prices, especially earlier in the year, have a big impact,” he said. “People notice that right away. When you’re buying your groceries on a weekly basis or filling up your car that’s a pretty big psychological kind of component of inflation, too, that people feel.”

And while gas prices have come down, food and housing remain stubbornly high. 

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