How the Crash Continues to Reshape America

Writing in this magazine, I argued that the economic crisis was reshaping America's economic geography, with big city centers and mega-region hubs like New York City, talent-rich regions like greater D.C., and college towns weathering the storm relatively well, while Rustbelt cities and shallow-rooted Sunbelt economies being much harder hit.

Take a look at the graph below from the newly released SP/Case-Shiller Home Price Index for April.


Phoenix and Las Vegas have taken the biggest hits: Housing prices there have declined more than 50 percent in the past year. Miami is next, then Detroit where housing prices have sunk to mid-90s levels. San Francisco is the only significant talent region to be pummeled. Part of this is to be expected given the tremendous run-up in housing prices there, but still prices remain higher than 2000 levels. San Diego, L.A., and Tampa have all seen declines in excess of 40 percent.

Housing prices have declined less significantly in greater D.C., Chicago (hub of the great Chi-Pitts mega-region and a magnet for regional talent), Seattle (a high-tech, high human capital center), Atlanta (a talent hub for the southeast), New York, Portland, Boston, Denver - (talent hub for the Rockies), Dallas (a mega-region hub), and Charlotte (which along with Atlanta hubs the great Char-lanta mega-region). Cleveland breaks the pattern, but like Detroit its absolute housing values have fallen. Prices in greater D.C., along with Denver, Dallas, and Cleveland, were actually up in April.

The Index also tracks prices in terms of their 2000 baseline. Nationally, it's at 140, meaning housing prices remain 40 percent higher than in 2000, more or less in line with 2003 prices. Looked at it this way, the geographic pattern could not be more striking.

Rustbelt cities have seen, by far, the biggest declines relative to 2000 prices. Detroit and Cleveland are the only two cities where housing values have slipped below 2000 values - Detroit at 69 percent and Cleveland at 98 percent.

Prices have just about fallen back to 2000 levels in Sunbelt cities like Phoenix (105), Atlanta (105), Las Vegas (112), Dallas (115) and Charlotte (118). Miami (145) and Tampa (140) break the pattern; their prices remain significantly above 2000 levels. My guess is that prices will continue to fall and sharply in these two markets in the coming months.

But prices in prices in Boston (146), L.A. (149), greater D.C. (167), and New York (170) remain significantly above - 50 to 70 percent above - 2000 levels. While these prices may dip some, my hunch is these markets will not be devastated and will remain substantially above 2000 levels.

The SP/Case-Shiller Index suggests that housing prices are still falling and have another 30 or more to go before they hit bottom. One thing you can be sure of, it will continue to be felt  unequally across regions.