For anyone who owns a home, the past six years have seemed anything but normal. Nationally, home prices are down some 35 percent in that time, and in some cities the drop was almost double that figure. Even with some recent signs of improvement, the housing market is likely to bounce along the bottom for a long time.
Yet in one sense, we’re returning to normal. The homeownership rate in the first quarter of 2012 fell to 65.4 percent. It is now at 1997 levels, 3.6 percentage points below the peak reached in the bubble years—and coming closer to what you might call a natural rate for the U.S. economy.