NEW YORK CITY -- Owning a home has long been the American dream. But a report this week from the Census Bureau says home ownership has fallen to a near 20-year low of just over 64 percent. For many Americans, owning a home has become a dream deferred.
Forty-five-year-old Matt Purdue has a 10-year-old daughter and a good job in public relations. What he doesn't have is a house, which is just how he likes it.
"I never have to deal with maintenance, broken pipes, cleaning the gutters, mowing the lawn," said Purdue.
But this isn't just a question of convenience, Purdue had his eyes open the last half dozen years.
"I have so many friends who own homes that are still underwater since the financial crisis," said Purdue. They "can't sell their home, can't move, don't want to rent it out, and they're just miserable."
Purdue isn't alone. Home ownership is down across the board, but it's fallen most among Gen X-ers -- those between 35 and 44 -- dropping from nearly 67 percent before the recession to 59 percent today.
Ownership among millennials -- those under 35 -- fell as well, from 41 to 36 percent.
"It's hard for them to believe that owning a home is the best way to build wealth anymore," said Realtytrac's Daren Blomquist. "They've seen in some markets, home prices went down 30, 40, 50 percent during the housing bubble and the burst.
Blomquist expects those rates to rise if a sustained economic recovery generates more security for millennials and X-ers. If not, they'll join Matt Purdue as members of home ownership's lost generation.
"To me, the American Dream is freedom and having flexibility to go when your lease is up," said Purdue. "Maybe upgrade to a better place, and not be stuck in debt to a bank."
Blomquist said there's been a flip when it comes to lending. It's the government, he said, that's now pushing for a loosening of lending rules hoping to jump start home ownership. And it's the banks asking for tighter requirements, not wanting a repeat of a burst housing bubble.