CEPR - Center for Economic and Policy Research


En Español

Em Português

Other Languages

Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press

Beat the Press

 facebook_logo  Subscribe by E-mail  

What the Fresher Data Show on Down Payments and Mortgage Default Rates Print
Saturday, 13 December 2014 09:36

Ron Lieber had a well-reasoned "Your Money" piece in the NYT that discussed the merits and pitfalls of buying a home with a low down payment. However it may have misled readers about the findings of the research.

It noted that some people have raised concerns about the risks of default on low down payment mortgages (it linked to a post by me) and then it referred to others disputing that low down payments are associated with higher risks, using "fresher data." The fresher data in question is a study by the Urban Institute which actually shows a strong inverse relationship between the size of the down payment and default risk for every year analyzed. 

For example, in 2001, people with strong credit scores (FICO above 750) had a 0.2 percent default rate if they put 20 percent or more down on their house, their default rate was six times as high, 1.2 percent, if their down payment was between 3-5 percent. For people with low credit scores (below 700), the default rate was 2.2 percent with a down payment of 20 percent or more, it was 5.1 percent for a down payment between 3-5 percent.

The comparable numbers for 2007 were 4.5 percent for people with strong credit scores and 20 percent or more down, compared to 13.5 percent for people with strong credit ratings and 3-5 percent down. For people with low credits scores, and putting 20 percent or more down, the default rate was 20.9 percent compared to 30.6 percent for those putting 3-5 percent down.

The way the study implies a weak relationship between down payment and default risk is by comparing default rates for people who put between 5-10 percent down and people who put 3-5 percent down. Since almost all the the people in the former category are putting just 5 percent down, the study is effectively telling us that the default rate is not much higher if people put 3 percent rather than 5 percent down. This is probably true.

That Horrible Debt Burden On Japanese Children Print
Saturday, 13 December 2014 09:15

Due to Japan's national debt, which is well more than twice its GDP, Japan's children are burdened with interest payments that are close to 0.8 percent of GDP. That sounds pretty awful right? How are the kids going to be able to make it?

If the sarcasm isn't obvious, then you need some basis of comparison here. The interest burden in the United States is now 1.4 percent of GDP. When our children were really being crushed by the burden of the debt back in the early 1990s the interest burden peaked at a bit more than 3.0 percent of GDP, a bit less than four times Japan's current burden. In fact, the figure of 0.8 percent of GDP overstates the true burden since much of this money is paid to Japan's central bank and then refunded to the government.

The prompt for this discussion is an article in the Washington Post about the prospects for Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his economic program, now that he has called snap elections. To get an assessment of the impact of Japan's debt on the welfare of future generations the Post turned to Kayoko Kamiya, who is identified as "a 43-year-old housewife." 

"Well, we are only shifting the burden to my children, so it’s tricky, ... Raising the tax [a consumption tax increase that had been scheduled to go into effect in April, but now has been delayed by Abe] earlier would make things at least easier later. I feel unsure if it’s right that the current generation doesn’t take care of the debt."

The piece also tells us that the bond rating agencies (yes, those people who rated subprime mortgage backed securities as Aaa) are threatening to downgrade Japan's debt. It might have been worth pointing out that the financial markets appear to disagree with the bond rating agencies. The interest rate on 10-year Japanese government bonds is 0.40 percent.

In a piece providing an assessment of the economy's performance under Abe, it would have been worth noting that Japan's employment rate has risen by 2.2 percentage points since Abe took office at the end of the 2012. This would be the equivalent of adding more than 5 million workers in the United States.



This piece wrongly asserts that Japan has been in a deflationary spiral over the last 15 years. This is not true. It has consistently had very low inflation rates that did in some years turn negative. However, the deflation rate never exceeded -1.0 percent and it has not accelerated, as would be implied by a delfationary spiral. The basic problem in Japan is the same as in Europe, the inflation rate has been too low over the last two decades.

The Incompetence of Economic Policy Makers: Why U.S. Women Are Leaving the Labor Force Print
Saturday, 13 December 2014 08:39

The NYT seems intent on hiding the elephant in the living room. Yesterday it gave us a piece on why men are leaving the labor force, today it gives us a piece on why women are leaving the labor force.

Both articles raise some interesting and important issues. The article on women and work in particular gives an excellent discussion of how most other wealthy countries are far ahead of the United States in providing support for working mothers in the form of paid family leave, paid sick days, and affordable child care. (These are all areas in which CEPR has done considerable research.) 

The failure of the United States to meet the needs of working parents largely explains why so many countries have passed the United States in the percentage of prime age (ages 25-54) women who are employed. This figure now stands at 69.9 percent in the United States. By comparison, it is 78.4 percent in Denmark, 76.1 percent in France, and 72.0 percent in Japan.

But the failure of the United States to meet the needs of working parents doesn't respond to the headline of the piece, "why U.S. women are leaving jobs behind." The answer to this question is very clearly the state of the economy. After all, the employment to population ratio (EPOP) for prime age women peaked in 2000 at 74.2 percent, coincidentally the peak of the business cycle. After the stock bubble burst and threw the economy into recession in 2001 the EPOP for prime age women declined. It bottomed out at 71.8 percent in 2004 and then started to rise as the economy began to create jobs again. It peaked at 72.5 percent in 2006 and 2007 and then tumbled to a low of 69.0 percent in 2011. Since then it has inched up gradually as the labor market has begun to recover from the downturn.

Anyhow, it is good to see the NYT draw attention to the failure of the United States to provide adequate support for working families which leads to unnecessary hardships for both parents and children. But it is seriously misleading to imply that the causes of the drop in employment of women in this century can be found anywhere other than the failed macroeconomic policies originating in Washington.

In other words, U.S. women are leaving the labor force because Alan Greenspan and other financial regulators and the economics profession were too incompetent to recognize an $8 trillion housing bubble. And they are leaving the labor force because Washington politics are dominated by a cult of balanced budgets. This cult is so powerful that even the politicians who know it is nonsense are scared to challenge it. Washington politics is also dominated by powerful interest groups (e.g. Walmart, General Electric, the financial industry) who benefit from an over-valued dollar and don't care about the millions of jobs lost due to the resulting trade deficit.

Anyhow, these macroeconomic forces are not really questionable. Unfortunately they are rarely discussed in the media. Stories like the one today and yesterday badly mislead the public by largely ignoring these forces.

Global Warming: The United States Does More Harm Than Just Being the World's Largest Economy Print
Friday, 12 December 2014 07:40

A NYT article on a change in other countries' attitudes towards the United States role in global warming negotiations seriously understated the basis for other countries' anger toward the United States on this issue. It referred to reactions to President Obama's inability to get Congress to pass a law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

"the United States went back to being viewed as the world’s largest economy and largest historic greenhouse gas polluter, refusing to change course."

Actually, if the United States were just polluting in the same ratio to GDP as other wealthy countries that would be an enormous step forward. However, we have taken few of the steps that Europe has done over the last four decades to reduce energy consumption. In addition, because we have taken gains in productivity growth rather than leisure, we emit more than twice as much greenhouse gas (GHG) as people in western Europe, even though we have comparable living standards.

If it were just a question of the U.S. emitting a lot of GHG because we are the world's largest economy, those concerned about global warming would be much more pleasantly disposed toward the United States.

The Decline In Male Employment: Look to Large Trade Deficits and Small Budget Deficits Print
Friday, 12 December 2014 06:56

The NYT had an interesting piece on the decline in employment rates among prime age male workers. While it discusses many of the causes of this decline, it missed the most obvious: policy decisions that have depressed demand in the economy. Many readers of the piece may wrongly believe that the current low employment rate is primarily the result of a long-term trend. This is not true.

From 1979 to 2000 the employment to population ratio (EPOP) fell by 2.1 percentage points. If it had continued this pace of decline, it would have fallen by roughly 1.4 percentage points since 2000. In fact, it has dropped by 5.1 percentage points. The most obvious explanation for this more rapid rate of decline is weak demand. The weakness of demand is in turn caused by a decision to keep down the size of the budget deficit and to sustain an over-valued dollar. These are both policy decisions made in Washington that have nothing to do with the character and skills of the workers who do not have jobs.

It's also worth noting that wages for the jobs that these men may be able to get would be considerably higher if the government decided to run a high employment policy. As Jared Bernstein and I show in our book, wages for those at the bottom of the income distribution are strongly influenced by the unemployment rate.

Chronic Lyme Disease, the State of Science, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Print
Wednesday, 10 December 2014 20:37

I apologize for a bit of a digression here for personal reasons (my wife has chronic Lyme disease), but if you'll bear with me, I think I can make some connections. The immediate prompt for this post is a snide article in Slate by Brian Palmer, warning readers that, "New York is about to change its medical misconduct law to protect quacks."

The "quacks" referred to in the article's sub-headline are doctors who provide long-term antibiotic treatment for people who have chronic Lyme disease. As the article tells us, chronic Lyme does not exist:

"The Infectious Diseases Society of America—the association of scientists and clinicians who study this sort of thing—has repeatedly characterized chronic Lyme disease as 'not based on scientific fact.'"

It's great that Palmer can be so confident of this assertion, but it turns out that the evidence is far weaker than the association of scientists and clinicians who study this sort of thing might lead you to believe. There are actually very few studies that have tried to evaluate the effectiveness of long-term antibiotic treatment of people who believe themselves to be suffering from chronic Lyme.

As explained in an analysis by Brown University researcher Allison DeLong, one of the studies was poorly designed so that it would have been almost impossible for it to have found a significant effect from antibiotic treatment. A second study did find evidence that treatment alleviated symptoms, however this finding was dismissed because the symptoms returned after the treatment stopped. (Effectively this study was testing whether six months of treatment would cure patients, some of whom had years of prior treatment. It really shouldn't have taken too much background in science to know the answer to that one would be no.)

The third study actually did find statistically significant evidence that treatment improved patients' outcomes by its main measure, a survey on fatigue. However it dismissed this finding because the researchers decided that the blind nature of the study had been compromised. When surveyed after the fact, 70 percent of the control group wrongly guessed that they had been treated. However two-thirds of the treatment group somehow recognized that they were being treated. Therefore the researchers decided that they could not accept the results, since the people in the treatment group knew they were being treated.

I'm not making this up. You can find the study here. It was published in a major medical journal and its negative findings are routinely cited by doctors arguing that chronic Lyme disease does not exist and long-term antibiotic treatment is pointless. (If you haven't figured it out yet, the study found exactly what you would want in the comparison between the control and the treatment group. The same percent of people in each group thought they were being treating. This means that the blind nature of the study was not compromised.) 



Single Parents and the Break-Up Between the White Working Class and the Democratic Party Print
Wednesday, 10 December 2014 05:28

Thomas Edsall has as interesting piece this morning discussing the changing plight of working class whites in the United States and their increasing estrangement from the Democratic Party. He gets much of the story right. Certainly they can no longer be assured of a comfortable middle class existence. And, if they do manage to get middle class jobs, they certainly cannot guarantee that their children will be as lucky.

However some of the argument is misplaced. Edsall notes the sharp growth in single mothers among women without college degrees. He then refers to research showing worse outcomes for children of single parents, implying that the problems for children stem from the increasing ability of parents to get divorced. This does not follow.

To take the simplest story, imagine a world in which no one is allowed to get divorced. Some children grow up in happy families with two committed parents. These children are likely on average to do well in life. On the other hand, some children grow up in dysfunctional families where parents regularly fight and a father may be abusive, alcoholic, or have other serious issues. These children will probably on average do less well in life.

Now suppose we allow couples to divorce. Presumably the happy couples stay together and the unhappy ones get divorced. If we compare outcomes of the children we would likely find that the children raised by two parents do better than the children raised by single mothers. However, it would be wrong to conclude that the problems for the children of single mothers stemmed from the fact that they are divorced, it would stem from the fact that they had been in bad relationships.

Given that divorce and single parents are a reality, the obvious policy response is to ensure that children get the education and support they need regardless of their family background. Good public child care, access to pre-K education, and affordable college education seem like obvious policy responses to these circumstances, along with laws that guarantee family friendly workplaces (e.g. paid sick days and paid family leave). These are policies that the Democrats have typically advocated.

The other set of policies for the white working class that the Democrats could (and sometimes have) advocate have to do with full employment. As Jared Bernstein and I argued in our book, Getting Back to Full Employment (download is free), full employment disproportionately benefits those at the middle and bottom of the wage distribution. The only period in the last four decades where these workers enjoyed sustained real wage gains was in the period of low unemployment from 1996 to 2000. Barring other changes in the economy, we will have to return to unemployment rates below 5.0 percent before most workers will again see substantial real wage gains.

There are three policies that the Democrats can push to again get the unemployment rate down to these low levels. The first involves additional government spending which would boost demand, growth, and employment. Unfortunately, superstitions about budget deficits makes this unlikely in the foreseeable future.



Lowering Down Payments Increase Risk of Mortgage Default (see correction) Print
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 08:02

The housing bubble was apparently too far in the past for many of the people writing about housing to remember. Part of the problem was that many borrowers got loans that they were ill-situated to repay.

One of the factors that is a strong determinant of whether people will be able to pay a mortgage is the size of the down payment. The equity from a down payment serves as a cushion in bad times. It also reduces the risk to lenders, since this is money they stand to recover in the event of a default.

The NYT misled readers about the relative risk from low down payment loans in an article on the decision by the government to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase loans with just 3 percent down payments. The piece cited several commentators saying that the risk of defaults would not increase substantially by lowering down payment requirements.

A study by the Center for Responsible Lending found that the default rate for loans with down payments of between 3 to 10 percent was 6.8 percent. This is 45 percent higher than the default rate it found for mortgages with down payments of 10 percent or more. The gap would be even larger of the comparison was restricted to those with down payments between 3 to 5 percent, with mortgages with down payments of 20 percent or more.

It is dubious housing policy to encourage moderate income people to take out mortgages on which they are likely to default. Furthermore, since the median period of homeownership among low income homebuyers is less than five years, a relatively small portion of households who are able to buy homes through this policy will accumulate any substantial amount of wealth. By contrast, the policy is likely to help the banking and real estate industries accumulate wealth.



In response to the questions in the comments, the study did not directly give the 57 percent figure, you had to back it out from the numbers they did give. According to their data, the additional low down payment mortgages raised the overall average from 4.7 percent to 5.2 percent. In order for this to be the case, the default rate on the additional mortgages had to be 6.8 percent -- in other words, 45 percent higher than the higher down payment mortgages.

In fact, assuming their analysis is like every other analysis of default rates, it found a strong inverse relationship between the size of the down payment and the default risk. The likelihood of defaults for those putting down 3-5 percent is probably close to four times as high as those putting down 20 percent. I think it's great to help low and moderate income people get good housing. But this policy is about helping banks get their bad mortgages insured by taxpayers.

One more point, it is a lie to say that this is an issue about people being able to get a mortgage with a low down payment. This is an issue about people being able to get a government guaranteed mortgage with a low down payment. We are talking about people paying a higher interest rate that reflects the actual risk associated with their mortgage.


Correction: An earlier version had put the difference at almost 80 percent due to an arithmetic error. Thanks to Bill Sermons, at the Center for Responsible Lending for calling the error to my attention.

Solid Common Sense from Catherine Rampell on Uber Print
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 07:55

Catherine Rampell's column on Uber is well worth reading. The basic point is very simple and should be obvious. There are good reasons for regulating cabs. They should have proper insurance, meet safety standards (both car and driver), and should also be limited in number. (Cabs create congestion and pollute.)

Whatever regulations are established should apply across the board. Uber doesn't get an exemption because it is run by incredibly rich twenty somethings.  

Is Educating Matt Yglesias a Full-Time Job? Print
Monday, 08 December 2014 14:23

Sorry, I usually find Matt's stuff interesting, but I couldn't resist the cheap shot. Anyhow, Matt seems to have gotten himself stuck in the mud of a silly debate between Obama haters and Obama apologists.

The haters are saying that all the jobs created under the Obama administration are part-time jobs -- pointing out that full-time employment is still below the pre-recession peak. Meanwhile the apologists are pointing out that most of the jobs created under Obama have been full-time jobs. With the wisdom of someone other than Solomon, Matt pronounces them both right.

Okay, let's step back for a moment and deal with two separate issues. The first is overall employment. We saw a huge fall in employment that began before Obama stepped into the White House and continued for his three months in office. Since that point the economy has gained back more jobs than it initially lost. However since part-time employment (both voluntary and involuntary, a distinction to which we return momentarily) is well above pre-recession levels, full-time employment is still below its pre-recession level.

How should this appear on the Obama scorecard? Well, it's pretty damn silly to blame Obama for the downturn. He walked into an economic disaster that was not of his doing. We can argue that the recovery should have been more robust. I know the Republicans blame Obamacare, taxes, regulations and the Redskins' defense, but none of these explanations can pass the laugh test.

The more obvious explanation, which some of us did say at the time, is that the stimulus was not large enough to fill the hole in demand created by the collapse of the housing bubble. There is a question as to whether Obama could have gotten more stimulus through Congress, either at the time or in subsequent efforts, but the main problem was congressional opposition, not the actions of President Obama.



<< Start < Prev 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 Next > End >>

Page 17 of 423

Support this blog, donate
Combined Federal Campaign #79613

About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.