I live in a boom-bust part of the world known as south Florida. 2008 and its housing implosion and financial Armageddon have seemingly been forgotten as rents skyrocket, Miami condos go for ungodly sums and dozens upon dozens of condo and apartment projects are in construction, from Miami Beach all the way up the Atlantic coast to West Palm Beach and beyond.
But this new boom time feels significantly different than the last. It feels as if only a relatively small portion of the population is experiencing the renaissance. Back in the last boom it seemed everyone’s houses or condos were soaring in price. Now, many homes are still underwater — though not as much — and even more would be a break-even proposition if sold. And if you can’t buy because of the post-crisis frugality and conservatism of both banks and legislation, you’re paying a whole lot more in rent than just a few years ago. Not exactly the American Dream for many homeowners and renters.
Another extremely visible sign illustrating how this time it’s different, is the number of homeless and/or despondent people in plain sight every day. The Audi or the BMW in a grocery store parking lot is joined by a woman in tattered clothes filing by pushing a grocery cart with seemingly all her belongings. At intersections that haven’t yet ruled them off the streets via local codes demanding licenses to do so, the panhandlers’ numbers increase. Every morning the sun rises over the Atlantic and sheds light on the homeless sleeping on the beach.
I realize my perspective is anecdotal. An empirical analysis may tell a different story. But likely not, at least nationally, as Robert J. Samuelson writes in a fact-based, disturbing story of 2016 America. In short, life has not improved for most Americans and the trend, having lasted for so long, has likely ceased being a trend and is now just the way it is.