Sluggish Housing Market A Product Of Millions Of 'Missing Households' Economists say there are more than 2 million "missing households" in the U.S. — young people who bunk with family or friends rather than buying their own home. New data suggest this trend continues.
NPR logo

Sluggish Housing Market A Product Of Millions Of 'Missing Households'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Sluggish Housing Market A Product Of Millions Of 'Missing Households'

Sluggish Housing Market A Product Of Millions Of 'Missing Households'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


There are more than two million missing households in the U.S. That's how economists describe the fact that fewer people are striking out on their own to find places to live. A surprising number of Americans in their twenties and early thirties are still living with family or with several roommates. And the latest numbers out this week, show that's continuing to hurt the recovery in the housing market. NPR's Chris Arnold has more.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: A year ago, the housing market was looking like it was finally recovering. Sales and prices were picking up. But then, home sales fizzled. They're now down about 7 percent from last spring, and a big reason for that is that younger Americans are having an especially tough time since this recession.

MARISSA SZABO: We would love to buy a house right now, but we just don't have anything saved up currently.

ARNOLD: Marissa is 26-years-old. She works in the state auditor's office in Boston, and on her lunch break she's come outside the statehouse, here, with its big golden dome of a roof. Schoolkids on a field trip stream out of the building.


ARNOLD: The kids happily head back to get packed into a crowded school bus, and Marissa Szabo doesn't have much more space than that in the apartment she's renting in Boston. Like many twenty-somethings, she's living with a lot of roommates.

SZABO: The most I've had - five. I currently have three. And, yeah, I've never even been able to consider getting a place by myself, just because of how high the rent is.

ARNOLD: The high cost renting is one of the things that's made life tougher for Szabo and other millennial's. And now she's ready to settle down and move in with her boyfriend. He's 28. They're talking about getting married, having kids, and they're kind of done with the roommate thing.

SZABO: We're starting our lives together. We wanted it to be together, not together plus eight or three or however many.

ARNOLD: But those high rents combined with student debt and stagnant wages mean, for young people right now, it is just very tough to save money for a down payment to buy a house. And Marissa Szabo and her boyfriend were getting frustrated as they looked for an apartment, even just to rent by themselves.

SZABO: Some places were asking for first, last, security and then a broker's fee, too. So that's five months rent, right upfront. And we both just sat down and said, all right, are we willing to take all of our money and light it on fire?

ARNOLD: So when you're in your twenties and you have no place else to turn, what do you do? Szabo and her boyfriend have decided to move in with her mother who, it turns out, has an extra bedroom. So that way they can save up a down payment and buy a house in a year or two.

SZABO: And my mom has been so awesome and supportive about it. She doesn't want rent or anything like that. We'll help with the utilities, and we'll do some repairs around the house for her, and she'll be happy, she says. So I think it's just a win-win situation for us.

ARNOLD: That's cool, yeah, I think a lot of parents - you know, as long as you don't stay too long.

SZABO: Exactly, exactly - right now she's like, yeah you're back. I'm like, for a little while, mom (Laughing).

ARNOLD: For a few years, now, economists have looked at all these millennials living with parents or roommates, and they've said, that has to be pent-up demand. And soon, as young people finally move out on their own, that'll mean more first-time homebuyers. It'll create more job. It'll help the whole economy. The only problem with that scenario is that it's still not actually happening yet.

DAVID CROWE: That's right. The first time homebuyer is really absent from the market.

ARNOLD: David Crowe is the chief economist for the National Association of Homebuilders. He says only 16 percent of new home sales are going to first-time homebuyers. That's half of normal. And in terms of the numbers of new homes that are actually getting built...

CROWE: We're not even halfway back.

ARNOLD: It's actually remarkable just how stunted home construction still is. The country hasn't been building this few homes since World War II, and things aren't getting much better. New numbers out this week from the Commerce Department show that construction of new single-family homes fell about 6 percent in May, compared to the month before. Mortgage applications were down this week, too. Still, Crowe expects that the market will keep recovering - just very slowly. Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.



Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.