The unemployment rate continues to affect the housing market, though the correlation is not as direct as it might be assumed.
As the housing finance sector continues its gradual recovery, much of its climb back to viability is predicated on a balanced infusion of mortgage investments. Currently, that balance does not exist, as the mortgage market is heavily influenced by government-sponsored entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Federal Reserve's bond-buying program, which accounts for $85 billion on a monthly basis. That level of spending, which has been due for rumored tapering for the better part of 2013, is the primary contributor to mortgage interest rates that recently reached a four-month low of 4.13 percent during the first full week of resumed government activity.
As long as the Fed's purchasing program persists in its current form, interest rates will be held down. Their late-summer rise was based on the presumed eventual reductions to that spending. But they have since fallen back to early-2013 levels as it has become clear any adjustments are on hold. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has stated on numerous occasions that, until the unemployment rate falls below 6.5 percent, federal contributions to mortgage market capital will continue at their current levels. And therein lies the tangential, albeit considerable, connection between jobs and housing.
According to the delayed but most-recently released jobs report, the current rate of national unemployment sits at 7.2 percent. That figure represents an improvement from the number of Americans who were out of work at this time a year ago, and in general joblessness has been on a steady decline. But the specific progress the Fed says it needs to see has not yet presented itself.
For Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 - the logical next wave of prospective homebuyers - the employment market remains tenuous. In addition, growth within many of the more afflicted metro areas (i.e. Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, even Chicago) has been slower than many had hoped. Combined with a rate of pay increases that has essentially stagnated, those factors have led to reconsideration by Fed officials as to how wise it might be to curb their stimulus at this particular time.
It all adds up to a bit of a wait-and-see approach among industry analysts. The consensus now is that no changes to Fed programs will be made until at least 2014, when Bernanke is due to relinquish his post and continued construction-sector growth may be contributing to further employment expansion and spurring renewed confidence in the housing sector. Any re-evaluations of strategy before then, however, are unlikely.
The good news is that the housing market is currently much healthier than it was three years ago, or even at this time last year, and it appears on a positive trajectory for the foreseeable future. But until that next wave of buyers finds itself on more stable ground - free of debt, secure in their jobs - the amount of private capital will remain minimal and the ceiling for growth, like interest rates, will remain relatively low.