Be It Ever So Humble

Americans’ zeal for buying big new houses is now widely blamed for sending the global economy into a near depression. It’s almost a surprise, as such, to be reminded by the Census Bureau that most Americans don’t inhabit vast McMansions after all.

In a Census report on American Community Survey data for 2008, we learn that just 11 percent of the nation’s homes have nine or more rooms. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 4 percent consist of a just one room, and another 27 percent have two to four rooms. In half of all housing units, the rooms total five (20 percent), six (18 percent) or seven (12 percent). As for bedrooms, 11 percent of homes have one, 26 percent have two, 39 percent have three, 16 percent have four and 4 percent have five or more. Five percent have no bedroom at all. (The total exceeds 100 percent due to rounding.)

Despite the feverish building boom that preceded the building bust, nearly nine in 10 of the nation’s housing units were constructed before the onset of this decade. In fact, more than half were built before 1980, including 17 percent in the years 1970-79, 11 percent in 1960-69, 11 percent in 1950-59, 6 percent in 1940-49 and 14 percent in 1939 or earlier.

While the famous mobility of Americans isn’t what it used to be, the report shows that 37 percent of households moved into their current home in 2005 or later. Another 22 percent moved to their home in 2000-04, and 20 percent made the move during the 1990s. Just over one household in five (taking into account rounding of the numbers) moved to its current domicile before 1990-9 percent in 1980-89, 6 percent in 1970-79 and 5 percent in 1969 or earlier.

One bit of popular wisdom is right on the money: Americans pay a lot to live in their homes. In housing units with a mortgage, half the households have monthly owner costs of $1,500 or more, including 31 percent for which the figure is $2,000 or more. As for renters, 23 percent shell out monthly rent of $1,000-1,499 and 11 percent of them pay $1,500 or more.