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Housing Symptoms

Housing symptom of larger, global economic crisis
Posted by Kerri Panchuk on May 21, 2012 12:20 PM
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Capital Economics released a report Monday suggesting job outsourcing and a decline in labor wages is derailing the economy, making housing issues look more like a byproduct of the cause rather than a symptom.

The report paints a picture in which general economic malaise may be more of a byproduct of long-term globalization, job outsourcing and technology replacing humans as opposed to a problem stemming solely from the 2008 housing bust.

Research economist Paul Ashworth concluded, “Labor share of income has been on a downward structural trend since the 1980s, resulting from the decline in labor’s bargaining power, globalization and technological progress. Not only will that downward trend continue, but it could even intensify as technology has a bigger effect. Admittedly, we should see a cyclical recovery in labour’s share over the next few years, but this will be temporary and we would expect the downward structural trend to dominate over longer periods.”

Since income levels are the basis for other spending, including housing, Capital Economics paints a picture of Americans increasingly taking home less to cover general expenditures. Ashworth claims when job cuts hit other employment areas, like information services and finance, it could send more workers into lower paying jobs.

Labor compensation accounted for 68% of national income in the 1980s, but fell to an average of 64% in the 2000s and has averaged lower than 62% since the recovery began, Capital Economics wrote.

While Ashworth acknowledges the strain of the late 2000s housing and mortgage finance crisis, he sees the trend of falling wages and outsourcing as a long-term transition that will impact America’s economy today and in the future.

He also suggested that the issue may be closer to reaching the political class in the U.S. and could give rise to a new preference for some protectionism.

“We have previously flagged up the possibility that the U.S. might embrace trade protection as a means of simultaneously tackling its high unemployment rate and persistent current account deficit,” wrote Ashworth.

“We have to admit that trade protection remains well down the political agenda, but it could still become a pivotal issue in this year’s presidential election. The leading Republican candidate Mitt Romney has indicated that he would unilaterally declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office, opening the door to the imposition of a wide range of tariffs on Chinese goods.”

He added that China may also rebalance and shift away from exports, moving toward investment and increasing domestic consumption, which would increase demand for American consumer goods.

kpanchuk@housingwire.com