• Gauging the Threat of Evictions

    Gauging the Threat of Evictions

    “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
    -Franklin Delano Roosevelt

    A couple weeks back, we noted the loss of the valuable Household Pulse Survey, authorized by Congress for the Census Bureau to measure, in detail, household conditions during the pandemic. The survey was funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and that funding lapsed at the end of July. We are happy to report that, after a six-week hiatus, the survey is back!
    Turns out we weren’t the only ones who thought it was valuable. The Census Bureau requested funding from the Office of Management and Budget, and it was finally approved. Surveys like this are valuable for a number of reasons. First, traditional government data is a little too slow and laggy to give us a good sense of economic conditions on the ground today, especially given the fast-moving nature of the current recession. The Household Pulse Survey is released weekly.
    But most importantly, this is a very targeted survey, asking questions such as “Has your spending been impacted by your fear of public safety?” You just can’t find that kind of information anywhere else.
    So let’s dig into the new and expanded (!) release from the Census Bureau. Buckle up folks, this is going to be a chartapalooza.
    One of the newly added questions to the survey helps answer a question that is on many people’s minds: What is happening with evictions now that moratoriums are starting to lapse? The chart below tracks respondents’ self-diagnosed eviction likelihood across states, and only measures those who said they were “very likely” to be evicted in the next two months.
    We should caveat that we don’t have a baseline (what would this chart have looked like last year at this time?) and we don’t know how volatile this might be from week to week, but there are 14 states where 1 in 5 respondents (or more!) think it’s very likely they will be evicted in the next two months! And it’s not like we have a tremendously small sample size problem here: There were roughly 16,000 renters from Maine surveyed, with 6,800 responding that they are very likely to be evicted. The Eviction Lab, a Princeton University project, provides great detail on policies enacted by state , and lo and behold, 16 of the 17 states furthest to the right in the chart above grade out as providing little to no renter protections (receiving either zero or half of one star out of five). The one exception is Arizona, which suffers from elevated employment and a recent virus outbreak.
    The left side, meanwhile, is populated by places that have either regained a significant share of jobs (Utah, Arkansas, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Alabama and, to a lesser extent, Vermont and Montana) or that grade highly in the Eviction Lab’s methodology for measuring efforts to keep them in their homes (D.C., Illinois, Washington, Connecticut and to a lesser extent, Vermont, Hawaii and New Jersey).
    Sticking with the eviction-related questions, the chart below breaks out survey respondent answers based on their education level. Much like jobs lost during the lockdown, the eviction risk is most heavily skewed towards the least-educated.
    The expiration of expanded unemployment benefits plays a large factor here. There has been a significant drop in Treasury unemployment insurance payments since that particular CARES Act program ran out in July. President Trump’s Lost Wages Assistance Program has been slow to become incorporated, as states have been applying one by one. As of Friday, 48 states and D.C. are now approved, with 20 making payments, but doubts about the length of program have come immediately after. Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma, three early adopters, are already at program end.
    Beyond this, state employment offices continue to struggle with months of unprecedented volume. Jobless claims have been exceptionally slow to recover from exceptionally high levels, with continued claims still at 13 million the week of Aug. 29, expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims 15 million (and rising) on top of that and over a million now on special extended 13-week claims beyond the initial 26-week period. Beyond that extension, state Extended Benefits show 240,000 have exhausted the 39-weeks of unemployment, up from zero in late July.
    That’s a lot of people and a lot of filings. It’s no surprise that state benefits infrastructure is struggling to keep up. The Pulse Survey asks the following question related to this: If you applied for unemployment, did you actually receive it? The total for the U.S. as a whole is a whopping 24%, or nearly 1 in 4 respondents. The chart below shows the breakout by state.
    While there are surely some fraudulent claims out there, more often it appears overwhelmed labor departments have found technical glitches in their approval process. For an exhaustive state-by-state list, see here.
    The survey questions we’ve explored thus far are just a drop in the bucket of the incredibly interesting questions being asked every week by the Census. We’ll close by looking at one particularly unique question: Has your spending been impacted by your fear of going out in public? The responses range from around 30% saying yes in places like Wyoming and Montana (i.e., not nearly as afraid to go outside in Big Sky Country) to nearly 60% saying yes in Washington, D.C. By our eye, there does seem to be a correlation between population density, urban versus rural split, and how much less you are spending because you don’t want to go out in public. The chart below tracks respondent’s by state plotted against the rural population percentage of each state. This seems to be as good a measure of pent up demand as you could find.
    D.C. and Hawaii in particular seem to be suffering from agoraphobia. D.C. is actually an interesting case study because it’s not a state but a metropolitan area. And a densely populated one at that. We suspect that if you were able to break out respondents in just the gateway markets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco and the like, you’d see a similar result.
    The further along this recovery goes, the more regional disparity is popping up between high-density and low-density areas. As another example of this, the seven metropolitan statistical areas with the least amount of restaurant traffic, as of Aug. 31: Honolulu (down 99.5% year over year), San Francisco (minus 92%), Washington, D.C. (a drop of 86%), New York, Baltimore and Seattle (down 83%) and Los Angeles (down 82%). Midwestern and Southern metropolitan areas, particularly in Florida, meanwhile, are up to a decline 40% or better. While still not great, that is a 40% divergence between the most and least open for business.
    For some time now, a key theme of this column has been the wide geographic divergence during the recovery. It appears that divergence isn’t shrinking any time soon.
    The Week Ahead …
    Next week the Fed meets for the first time since its Aug. 27 release of a new policy framework, which we have reviewed here and here. The meeting includes the committee’s first economic projections since June and the first release of its 2023 policy rate forecast. In a Bloomberg survey , economists expect the central bank to signal no rate hikes, even three years into the future. Chairman Jerome Powell is likely to spend the press conference diving into the new policy framework and also address the slow uptake of the Fed’s lending programs, especially to state and local governments. We look forward to tracking the second release of the Census’s Household Pulse Survey, but also notably will receive the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey for September. In other data, housing starts are likely to show the continued benefits of record-low mortgage rates.