Houses keep getting bigger, but the number to watch is the area per person in it
In Citylab, Richard Florida looks at the increasingly bloated American dream, at how once again the average size of the single family suburban home is on the rise. He uses data munched by the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank that positively gushes at the good news, seeing it as a sign a new morning in America. Their bottom line:
We hear all the time about stagnating household incomes, the decline of the middle class, rising income inequality, and lots of other stories of gloom and doom for Americans. But when it comes to the new homes that Americans are buying and living in, we see a much brighter picture of life in the US. The new homes that today’s generations are buying are larger by 1,000 square feet compared to the average new homes our parents might have purchased in 1973, and are almost double in living size today adjusted for household size compared to 40 years ago.
The AEI goes on to say that these houses are better insulated, with bigger baths, garages, more appliances and every one of them has central air. "Overall, the increasing size, improving quality, and relative affordability of new homes today means that living standards continue to gradually, but consistently, improve year after year for most Americans."
Really. Then you look at the actual number of housing starts in America and you find that while they are climbing, they are still half of what they were prior to the Great Recession. Because the fact of the matter is, because of stagnating household incomes, the decline of the middle class, and rising income inequality, there are far fewer people who can qualify for mortgages or can afford to maintain the lifestyle. Or as Richard Florida notes,
America’s bloated house size is a two-sided problem. For one, it’s yet another indicator of the nation’s deepening economic divide. The wealthy are pouring more and more money into trophy homes, while the professional and knowledge classes, too, are demanding more space for family and media rooms. The poor, meanwhile, are crammed into urban quarters or pushed out to older, dilapidated housing in the suburbs.
While the new houses are marginally more efficient and new technologies like LEDs and smart thermostats might be lowering our energy consumption, the energy used per person keeps going up as the houses keep getting bigger and the number of people in them keeps getting smaller. It's all wonderful for the AEI and the 1% who can get into these houses. Everyone else can go somewhere else.