Labor mobility has nearly ground to a halt in the past two years, and policymakers are increasingly worried that the slowdown is not just a symptom of the nation's economic struggles but also a barrier to overcoming them.It must be a slow news day because this is no news. The WaPo covered it in June 2008. Bill over at Calculated Risk added:
The biggest factor seems to be the large number of unemployed homeowners who have little or no home equity. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of renters who moved out of state decreased by 13.6 percent, according to census statistics, while interstate migration among homeowners has plummeted by 25.5 percent.
approximately 1 in 8 households (the same proportion as with negative equity) will probably not accept a job transfer now because of depressed home values - and that is about 200,000 fewer households per year that will probably not move for better job opportunities.This was all later confirmed by the Census Bureau in December 2008 and even more supporting evidence showed up in Paul Krugman's blog yesterday (source: Atlanta Fed). But I'm not here to berate the WaPo on repeating themselves, we all do it, I'm here to put a couple of things together and make a suggestion.
People with low or negative equity are not moving to the areas where they could find a job because they are trapped by unrealized losses or don't want to realize these losses. I would be willing to venture the guess than in the past households used proceeds from capital gains or built-up equity to fund relocation expenses; with low/negative equity, that just isn't possible.
|Credit to MacroBlog|
Cutting people's principal is a non-starter in many cases. Banks don't want to get a reputation for cutting loan principals and non-delinquent homeowners see it as reckless buyers getting rewarded at their expense.
A proposed solution
Seeing as how the government is already throwing massive amounts of money away trying to either reflate, or turn people into permanent renters, I suggest something slightly different. The government could maybe create a facility that lends money to underwater homeowners that need to free themselves from a home.
This is not a giveaway, it is a loan. This is not a below-market-rate loan, and therefore carries no implicit subsidy. The loans should probably made at a rate similar to or slightly higher than the original mortgage rate. Home-owners who are underwater and are being held-back from taking a job in a different area should be offered the loans, which would be contingent on a job offer. The loans would be used to pay-off negative equity at the time of a home sale. The borrower could then free him or herself from the home anchoring him or her down and return to employment.
I don't know if this next part is possible, but if the lending facility vowed to reduce the rate on the loans by a set amount if the borrower transformed the loan into a second lien on any new property bought, it could furthermore enhance the quality of these loans. These loans could then either be kept until maturity or sold to banks for securitization for a profit. Why a profit? Well, if the transaction was correctly orchestrated, the borrower rid him or herself of the anchor home, allowing them to enter a new job. If the borrower decided to buy a new home, the drop in rates would almost ensure they will be able to buy a similar home for a smaller monthly payment, improving the debt-to-income ratio. Because of the same lower rates, the new monthly mortgage payment plus the loan payment should be lower than the original mortgage payment, putting the borrower in a better position to meet their obligations. Additionally, banks holding undercollateralized loans would get to rid themselves of those loans and the possible losses associated with future defaults or short-sales. Finally, freeing people from their underwater properties would increase liquidity in the real-estate market, encouraging price discovery, getting assets to the people that want them and getting people to the employers that want them. Here's the list of pros in my mind:
- Worker mobility is augmented
- Worker / employer mismatched is reduced, increasing employment and PCEs and income taxes collected
- Putting people to work reduces unemployment benefits being paid out
- People decrease their debt service expense, leaving more money for PCEs
- Real-estate liquidity improves
- A couple of commissions are generated for brokers
- Price discovery is sped up
- Undercollateralized loans are reduced