Census Bureau on Homeownership Rate: We’ve got “Some ‘Splainin’ to Do”

Census Bureau on Homeownership Rate: We’ve got “Some ‘Splainin’ to Do”.

by CalculatedRisk on 6/09/2011 03:34:00 PM

CR Note: Economist Tom Lawler has written severalarticles on the different measures of homeownership and vacancy rates. Although some readers’ eyes will glaze over, this information is critically important for analyzing housing and the U.S. economy. I’m still thinking about the implications!

“Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!”
Ricky Ricardo, “I Love Lucy”, 1951
From economist Tom Lawler:

My frustration with the conflicting data on US housing that comes from different reports from the Census Bureau, and the inability of Census analysts to explain the differences or even tell “private” analysts what time-series data they should use to analyze US housing trends, has existed for at least a decade. Occasionally that long-standing “frustration” has led me to write that it almost appears as if Census officials and analysts “don’t care” about the conflicting data.

Whether that was or was not the case in the past, it most certainly is not the case today. In fact, some Census folks called me up yesterday to discuss some of the issues, and to let me know that (1) they are “concerned” about the differences; (2) they understand that the differences in measures of key variables have significant implications for the outlook for housing and the outlook for construction employment, with potentially significant public policy implications; and (3) they are going to devote considerable time and effort to investigate the differences.

While this phone call was not “on the record” and as a result I won’t discuss any details, one senior Census official agreed that Census has got “some ‘splaining to do!” I view this as a most, most welcome sign!

As a reminder of the key differences, below is a summary table of a few vacancy rate and homeowner rates from the decennial Census, the Housing Unit Coverage Study (HUCs) estimates (reflecting post-decennial-Census analysis), and the Housing Vacancy Survey (first-half averages).

Select Housing Measures: Decennial Census (4/1)
1990 2000 2010 2010 vs 1990 2010 vs 2000
Rental Vacancy Rate 8.5% 6.8% 9.2% 0.7% 2.4%
Homeowner Vacancy Rate 2.1% 1.7% 2.4% 0.3% 0.7%
Gross Vacancy Rate 10.1% 9.0% 11.4% 1.3% 2.4%
Vacancy Rate ex Seasonal/Recreational/Occasional Use 7.3% 6.1% 8.1% 0.8% 2.0%
Homeownership Rate 64.2% 66.2% 65.1% 0.9% -1.1%
Gross Vacancy Rate, HUCS (4/1)
1990 2000 2010 2010 vs 1990 2010 vs 2000
Gross Vacancy Rate, HUCS1 10.5% 9.2% 11.4% 0.9% 2.1%
Select Housing Measures: HVS/CPS (H1)
1990 2000 2010 2010 vs 1990 2010 vs 2000
Rental Vacancy Rate 7.2% 7.9% 10.6% 3.4% 2.7%
Homeowner Vacancy Rate 1.7% 1.5% 2.6% 0.9% 1.1%
Gross Vacancy Rate 11.4% 11.7% 14.5% 3.1% 2.8%
Vacancy Rate ex Seasonal/Recreational/Occasional Use 7.5% 7.5% 9.9% 2.4% 2.4%
Homeownership Rate 63.9% 67.2% 67.0% 3.1% -0.2%

1 Obviously, there has not yet been a “Housing Unit Coverage Study” for Census 2010!!!

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