by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When it comes to gauging the country’s economic health, the media usually focuses on indicators like gross domestic product (GDP). But those broad metrics don’t always capture people’s ability to meet their basic needs — food, clothing and shelter. Even though GDP has been declining for the last six months, the real alarm bell that should be ringing concerns the electorate’s inability to afford a place to live, something the discontented voter will not take lightly.
Since Joe Biden became president, prices have risen dramatically for clothing (7.3%) and food (13.7%), according to the Consumer Price Index. But those increases pale in comparison to how much home prices and rents have skyrocketed over the same period.
Home prices are up 29.4% under Biden, and rents have risen 24.6%. While rent prices are relatively straightforward, mortgage payments are a combination of factors, chiefly home prices and interest rates. As the Federal Reserve pushes up interest rates to fight inflation, the average monthly mortgage payment has exploded, increasing 81.7% for a typical loan with a 20% down payment.
Yet the same Fed that is now hiking rates to fight inflation was a key contributor to inflation’s growth. It was the Fed that acted as the personal financing arm of a spendthrift Congress and White House, creating trillions of dollars out of nothing, and causing prices everywhere to rise. But the Fed played a particular role in accelerating home prices.
The Fed has added over a trillion dollars of mortgage-backed securities (MBS) to its balance sheet, thereby infusing cash into the economy while also buoying the housing market. But the buying spree of MBS has driven up demand for those financial derivatives — and therefore demand for the underlying asset, mortgages.