Foreclosure. The word alone can shake any struggling homeowner. And a decade after the Great Recession began, foreclosures continue to burden U.S. families, stifling economic growth, and leaving uncertainty about how those struggling the most will make it through the next crisis.
Sure, the nation’s unemployment rate holds steady at a pre-recession low of 4.4 percent and there are more jobs in the market today. However, for some Americans, the recession and its costs have been significant and seemingly never-ending. From job losses to home losses and everything in between, many are wondering when they will be able to get back on their feet.
According to Alana Semuels of The Atlantic, if the U.S. is to weather another economic crisis, understanding why recession recovery has been so tough for some families is crucial. If not, losses could be even more devastating next time around.
So what’s the deal?
On a macro level, economic conditions seem brighter, but it’s only when you dig into the nitty gritty data that the struggles reveal themselves. For example, the labor-force participation rate (which measures the ratio of adults who either have jobs or are actively seeking one), fell sharply during the recession and remains at 62 percent, according to Bureau of Labor statistics.
Additionally, Census data shows lower-income tier families have experienced an average annual income decline of more than $500 between 2006 and 2016, while the top 20 percent of Americans experienced average income growth surpassing $13,000. That’s dramatic difference.
And then there’s the housing market.
While the population has grown significantly, there are now 400,000 fewer homeowners. Before the recession, the homeownership rate was 69 percent and today it’s 63 percent, per the Federal Reserve. That seemingly minute 6 percent drop actually represents millions of families who have lost their homes and livelihoods in the past 10 years.
Money disappeared, credit scores were ruined, and many are still trying to rebuild. Approximately 9 million families lost their homes to foreclosure between 2006 and 2014 in addition to their financial stability.
The recession created an unstable job market and many families just focused on making ends meet instead of moving up the career ladder or accumulating wealth. As a result, they fell to the bottom of the economic ladder, as Semuels put it, and are still trying to climb back up.
The foreclosure crisis was also focused on individuals who were already vulnerable, hitting Latino and black families the hardest. Many such families were first-time homeowners who really wanted a home but lacked access to traditional financial products. On top of less savings, education and wealth connections, foreclosures have really set these families back.
The detrimental effects of foreclosures spiral into other aspects of life, too. Researchers have found families in foreclosure visit emergency rooms more often, their mental health declines, and children struggle in school, to name a few.
Foreclosure often means leaving a community and the connections in that area that could otherwise be used to find jobs or get financial assistance, too.
For these reasons, many families are still struggling today, and their plight continues to be controlled by the economy. Millennials who have entered the workforce post-recession have made historically proportionately lower wages than previous generations and, as a result, have not been able to save as much money. In fact, anyone who lost their job during the recession (about 8 million people) lost substantial financial footing.
To this point, it’s not surprising that first-time homeowner rates are suppressed, as the National Association of Realtors 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers found. Fewer homebuyers has led to fewer homes built, a situation that has slowed economic growth a decade post-recession.
If the pace of homebuilding had returned to a more normal level, there would’ve been $300 billion more in the U.S. economy last year, boosting GDP by 1.8 percent, according to Ken Rosen, chair of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at Berkeley.
“The failure of the housing sector to recover is the main reason we have subpar economic growth,” Rosen told The Atlantic.
Many Americans do not feel financially secure right now.
Some are still just trying to find stable housing options.
And until they are able to raise their standard of living, it remains uncertain how the families who suffered the most during the Great Recession will weather the next (inevitable) economic downturn.