Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve Chairman, made the latest Beige Book results sound great: The recovery is spreading across all sectors of the U.S., and Americans are spending fractionally more.
On the other hand, 8.5 million people remain unemployed and overall unemployment is really more like 18 percent, if you count everyone who is underemployed and those who have given up on ever being able to find a job.
Employers are reticent to start hiring, and most don’t expect to get back to full capacity until 2012, or later.
In the housing world, the expiration of the tax credits has led to a plunge in home buying demand. How bad is it? According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, applications for a purchase mortgage have fallen to levels last seen some 13 years ago, or nearly 40 percent below the levels seen in mid-April.
Is the recession over? And if it is, is anyone except those who live on Wall Street going to feel it?
The latest foreclosure numbers from RealtyTrac are a good indication of what’s going wrong with the current post-recessionary period.
In its May, 2010 report, foreclosure filings (including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions) were reported on 322,920 properties, a 3 percent decrease from the previous month and an increase of less than 1 percent from May, 2009. According to the report, one in every 400 U.S. housing units received a foreclosure filing.
“The numbers in May continued and confirmed the trends we noticed in April: overall foreclosure activity leveling off while lenders work through the backlog of distressed properties that have built up over the past 20 months,” said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac. “Lenders appear to be ramping up the pace of completing those forestalled foreclosures even while the inflow of delinquencies into the foreclosure process has slowed.”
The problem with the number of foreclosure filings falling slightly is that we’re still looking at a huge number. And, in areas of the country where unemployment is extremely high, the number of foreclosure fillings is even higher.
In Nevada, one in every 79 housing units received a foreclosure filing. In Arizona, it was one in every 169 housing units. In Florida, it’s one in every 174 housing units. In Michigan, the foreclosure rate surged 6 percent in May, and is up 46 percent from a year ago. California, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Utah and Maryland round out the top 10 states with the highest foreclosure rate.
The news from this month’s National Association of Real Estate Editors’ conference confirmed that while the rate of foreclosure filings might fall a bit, the overall rate of foreclosures is projected to stay extremely high for the next few years.
It doesn’t feel like the recession is over if you’re unemployed or have lost half of your household income, are in foreclosure or are seriously delinquent on your mortgage, and you’ve nearly maxed out your unemployment benefits.
I’ve been hearing from more folks who are just about at the end of all their resources. They’ve stopped paying their mortgages, cut out everything except food, gas and electricity, and are developing a Plan B, which includes figuring out where to go when the foreclosure notice is finally tacked to the front door.
If this is the face of the recovery, it seems to me that millions of Americans haven’t been invited to the party and their prospects for being invited in the foreseeable future are somewhat dim.