Median Household Income And Housing Affordability

Let’s take a look at the affordability (or not!) of housing since there is no economic news of note today.

Last week the Census Bureau released their annual report on median household income for the US, covering 2020. Since this is the best measure to gauge housing affordability, rather than average wages or income, this is a good time to update this information.

Median household income declined in the US last year due to the pandemic, and the tsunami of unemployment that accompanied it. Still, at $67,521 it was still 40% higher in nominal terms than it was at the peak of the housing bubble in 2006 when it was $48,201:

Below I compare house prices measured by the FHFA house price index (dark and light blue) and the Case Shiller national index (red and violet), deflated by median household income and by average hourly wages as a monthly proxy. The results are normed to 100 as of the peak of the housing bubble in 2006:

Note that, because “average” wages are skewed higher than “median” wages, house prices appear more affordable in average hourly wage terms than in median household income terms. Specifically, in 2020 FHFA prices deflated by median household income were only 5.3% below their peak in 2006, and similarly deflated Case Shiller prices were 13.5% below theirs.

While median income for 2021 won’t be reported for another year, we do have both house price indexes through June of this year, and they are up a further 17.4% and 17.7% since mid-year of 2020:

If median household income from 2020 were held constant (it won’t be, there will be an increase this year because of the big gains in employment), in both cases “real” house prices would be higher than their bubble peak!  But even if nominal median income increases this year back to where it was in 2019 just before the pandemic, house prices would at least be very close to their all-time record as a multiple of household income.

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Disclaimer: This blog contains opinions and observations. It is not professional advice in any way, shape or form and should not be construed that way. In other words, buyer beware.

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