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Falling Homeownership Rates; Is Student Debt To Blame?

Debt Pile

The Atlantic is out with a piece today — Millennials Still Want to Buy Homes, They Just Don’t Think They Can Afford Them — exploring why first-time homeownership rates are lower today than between 1981 and the Great Recession.

The author, Gillian White, cites a recent study by the National Association of Realtors, noting that first-time homebuyers account for 33 percent of home purchases nationwide, compared to an average of 40 percent from 1981 to 2008. It’s “largely unclear if the dearth of first-time homebuyers is because of persistent economic instability or because young adults, who typically make up the first-time-home-buying group, were put off of the idea of homeownership by the housing bust,” she says.

We don’t know the answer at Young Invincibles, but we believe one big issue seems to be overlooked in this discussion: student loan debt.

An AllState/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll on attitudes towards homeownership, which White references, finds that nearly twenty percent of young adult respondents indicated “that while homeownership is a smart decision, it’s not financially viable for them,” as White put it.

Could student loan debt be to blame? Right now, there is $1.2 trillion in student loan debt piled high across the country, which is more than double the amount of credit card debt that our generation carries. College and university students leave school with an average of $30,000 in loan debt.

We hear from recent graduates that the debt they’re leaving school with often prevents them from renting an apartment, and that setting aside funds for a mortgage is often unthinkable. The Pew Research Center recently found that one in five young adults move back in with a parent after college. Business Insider suggests this rate could be even higher, with nearly one in three young people moving in with a parent post-college.

And given that our generation has a savings rate of negative two percent, it’s hard to imagine that most young graduates can think about taking out a mortgage anytime soon.

As national media explore why rates are falling, let’s have a conversation about how to tackle student loan debt — perhaps the number one cause of financial strain on young people across the country.

We recently released a menu of policy proposals that could create a pathway to debt-free college. We’re urging the presidential candidates to commit to adopting these ideas, if elected. And we hope that some of our solutions — such as bringing state investment in higher education back to pre-Recession levels — will inform national dialogue in the months to come.

There is no way to know whether bringing down debt levels will drive up homeownership rates, but it certainly would be a great step towards giving young people a better financial footing right out of college. Our plan also cuts existing monthly payments on student debt, making it easier to save up for a downpayment.

With sixty-five percent of jobs expected to require a postsecondary degree by 2020, keeping higher education affordable isn’t just critical for students — it’s critical for our economy.