For those of us born in the immediate aftermath of WW2, the knowledge that we were a demographic phenomenon was never far from our awareness. As our teachers and the popular press of the day constantly pointed out, our numbers overwhelmed the American school system, forced a reorganization of tax codes and social policy, gave boom to a youth-oriented culture, changed mores, and “radicalized” behavior across the country.
They also scared the bejabbers out of prognosticators who foresaw us bringing down the social security and health care systems sixty years down the road– when up to 79 million of us would hit retirement en masse.
Now the awful nightmare has come to pass! As our country faces an unprecedented economic mess and the unpleasant realization that for the next few generations at least, our global dominance has peaked and our standard of living will decline, we boomers bear the collective condemnation of our parents as well as our progeny for bringing down the American way of life—and just, well, ruining everything. Again.
The blame for the housing crash has variously been placed on greed, overbuilding, shoddy lending practices, insane economic policy, “globalization,” and a host of other ills, but perhaps it should also be considered that maybe there were just too (bleeping) many of us baby boomers, and that the policies that were instituted to accommodate our numbers were not fungible to following generations. Maybe the PTB forgot to adjust for diminished need– in housing, in goods and services, in governance? (Those vexingly partial 3.2 children per household of my childhood, are now down to an even more anatomically puzzling 2.09.)
When the statistical last of us boomers bought our first homes in 1992, the need for new housing was reduced accordingly. Yet building (and finance,) kept pace with a demographic that no longer existed. (Unless you count illegal immigration, but for the sake of argument, let’s not?)
The more optimistic of today’s pundits tell us the market will likely bottom in 2011 or 2012 after Prime and Alt A mortgages reset. But will it? What about all us yuppie boomers who only had one kid? And the fact that those kids are waiting far longer than their parents to reproduce and “settle down” in a house of their own?
Moreover, when both sets of Boomer parents bite the pickle and leave the house to their grown offspring and their only-child spouses, there will be two inherited houses per couple– plus whatever home(s) the kids may have purchased in the interim. On that purely theoretical basis, all else being equal, the housing glut will persist until junior has moved the last of the boomer grandmas and gramps into a retirement home and sold off the old family homestead(s).
If we define boomers as those born between 1948 and 1964, and assume the average aged hippie freak gets hustled off into assisted living at age 81, barring a population explosion during a prolonged economic depression and a whole lot of unforeseen variables I don’t have the energy to come up with right now, it could well be 2045 before all those houses are absorbed. It’s going to take an awful lot of stimulation to keep housing prices from losing at least one zero in the next ten years of so. And that’s assuming anyone still has a job left to pay for them.
So stick that in your hashpipe and smoke it, Mr. Yun….