Just in case some of you weren’t convinced, new data recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrates even more clearly the shrinking of the middle class.
Specifically, fewer people are achieving a central part of the middle-class “American Dream” — owning a home.
This dismal trend has been going on for years nationwide, and the latest data show it’s getting worse.
The number of people nationwide who own their home is now down to 63.7 percent — from a high of 70 percent back in the mid-2000s — its lowest level since the 1980s.
The same holds true in Greater Boston. In the latest fourth-quarter figures, home ownership in this region was down to 59.5 percent, a sharp drop from 63 percent a year earlier.
The main reason for this downward trend is the middle class’ deepening struggle in the face of wage stagnation and underemployment. Making matters worse, millennials are finding it hard to break into the middle class because of the slow growth of well-paying jobs amid the weighty burden of college loans.
Compounding the problem is that fewer and fewer affordable homes are being built. The cost of land and construction of homes continues to rise. More and more cities and towns maintain zoning laws that make it much harder, and much more expensive, for builders to construct affordable homes.
Against that backdrop, the market for homes in general in many areas is just not there. So builders concentrate on constructing more profitable high-end expensive homes and condos, as well as buildings geared toward renters.
The result: More people are forced to either remain in relatively cheaper rental properties, while millenials fail to launch from their parents’ homes.
But fear not, there are ways to fix this problem. For starters, ease zoning standards to promote construction of more affordable homes. Keep lending standards flexible to make it easy for those who can truly afford a home to qualify for mortgages, but not so porous — out of a misguided sense of fairness — that it leads to another housing bust.
Finally, focus higher education on practical career training for well-paying jobs so that the middle class can stop shrinking and again grow and flourish.
Rick Shaffer hosts “Biz$mart” weekday afternoons from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Boston Herald Radio.
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