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Peterson Institute for International Economics: Does High Homeownership Impair the Labor Market?

Published on May 10, 2013

We explore the hypothesis that high homeownership damages the labor market. Our results are relevant to, and may be worrying for, a range of policymakers and researchers. We find that rises in the homeownership rate in a US state are a precursor to eventual sharp rises in unemployment in that state. The elasticity exceeds unity: A doubling of the rate of homeownership in a US state is followed in the long-run by more than a doubling of the later unemployment rate. What mechanism might explain this? We show that rises in homeownership lead to three problems: (i) lower levels of labor mobility, (ii) greater commuting times, and (iii) fewer new businesses. Our argument is not that owners themselves are disproportionately unemployed. The evidence suggests, instead, that the housing market can produce negative ‘externalities’ upon the labor market. The time lags are long. That gradualness may explain why these important patterns are so little-known.