Are Housing Costs a Threat to the US Economy?

Raise your hand if you feel housing costs are out of control where you live…

Okay, you can put your hands down now 😉

On a more serious note however, many of Americans (in-fact, 53% according to a recent Washington Post article) are sacrificing significant aspects of their lives to make up for an overall increase in housing costs nationwide. Items such as better healthcare, putting money away for retirement, better neighborhoods they once lived in and schools they sent their children to; while at the same time taking on more hours at work or picking up another job…which of course come with their own set of sacrifices.

With the housing crisis of 2008 still fresh in peoples minds, many are concerned that housing costs could be one of the top threats to the US economy.

In light of this, we decided – in partnership with Donald Landwirth, host of Bay Area Ventures on SiriusXM’s channel 111 Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School – to use Glimpzit‘s machine learning platform to analyze the unstructured data (images, video, text) generated from asking a targeted audience the question:

Do you feel the cost of renting an apartment or owning a home is currently, or will become, a top threat to the US economy (consider current costs and the next 5-10 years)? Please explain why you feel this way about the cost of housing’s effect on the economy.

Our Unique Methodology for Gathering the Information

Prompted by the aforementioned question, respondents were asked to provide a brief, written description, along with a picture or video which they felt captured their thoughts on the subject.

You might be thinking, “Wait what? Why not just send out a survey with multiple choice questions and be done with it?”

Well…for many reasons actually. Simply put, what we’re asking here is not only a plain “yes or no” question. We want to get to the “why” hiding behind it; and to get to the bottom of why people feel a certain way, without adding limitations to the potential answers, we need to allow people to express themselves.

Until recently, nearly all researchers would have to field a focus group or use another more in-depth methodology to uncover something that’s more complex than filling in a bubble or putting a check mark into a box.

However, focus groups can cost a whole lot of money and take up a ton of time…and taking up time in the business world is like a sin, right?

We want answers to our business challenges, and we want them now!

housing costs

We want real human insights, and we want to get to those insights as quickly and cost effectively as possible. On top of that, and maybe most importantly, we want to be sure to gather reliable data.

This is where artificial intelligence (or machine learning) comes into play.

Here’s how we gathered our insights

We gathered up all the (what we call) “Glimpzes,” which are the responses to our question. Again, these are made up of videos, photos and brief, maybe one to three sentences of text.

Each of those responses are then evaluated by a peer group, who provide a thumbs up or down, along with brief text of their own, in response to how well a Glimpz resonated with them.

In total, we had 641 validated responses.

To clarify, a GlimpzIt peer group is independent from the people supplying the actual Glimpzes. This group mirrors the demographics of the the respondents identically.

To further clarify, a “validated response” is one that’s determined to include quality data. So instead of including the data from a response such as a picture of a cat along with the text “I love kitties,” GlimpzIt only takes into account those responses which provide relevant, valuable insights.

Here’s an example of one of the Glimpzes from this month’s Conversation…

housing costs
The text portion of the Glimpz reads: “While the rising cost of housing certainly will be harmful, I don’t think it will be the most harmful. I believe that threat comes from the super wealthy gaming the system.” Then, on the right you can see some red and green arrows accompanied by the numbers and percentage of evaluations that were up-voted or down-voted.

Finally, we use machine learning to perform a full analysis of all the Glimpzes and evaluations.

Okay, enough of that…

Let’s get to the results!

But first…just in case you hadn’t had enough of that, here’s some more information on: how to analyze qualitative data at quantitative scale.

Do Americans feel housing costs are a legitimate threat to the US economy, and WHY? 

The short answer: Yes

64.7% of respondents said that they felt housing costs would pose a major threat to the US economy over the next 5 to 10 years.

The longer answer, or the “why”:

Topics most cited as reasons why people who felt housing costs were a threat include:

  • Not able to spend as much on other consumer goods and will only have enough for necessities.
  • Not enough money to afford a decent education.

The most cited alternatives to housing costs as the top threat to the US economy were:

  • More people depending on welfare
  • Rising costs of healthcare
  • The cost of getting into another war
  • Developments in technology and automation

Below are some images of the visual data we collected using GlimpzIt

housing costs

housing costs
In green are all the Glimpzes (responses) from most tagged items (e.g. Smaller Budget for Consumer Goods) among all submitted responses. The blue bars represent what resonated most with Evaluators (up-votes and down-votes).


housing costs

A couple of the top Glimpzes

The following Glimpzes resonated the most with our Evaluators:

housing costs
Text portion of the Glimpz reads: The rate of inflation has vastly outpaced the rise of wages. Fewer and fewer young people each year decide to buy homes and instead opt for alternatives, which spells trouble for the housing market. As housing and renting prices increase, people will have less money to spend on other things


housing costs
The text portion of this Glimpz reads: “I make well above minimum wage, and it’s hard for me to find a house within my budget to rent. This can greatly impact our economy. If every dime a person makes is spent on housing, all other markets are going to suffer.

In Conclusion

A large percentage of the respondents agree that housing costs will become one of, if not the most harmful threat to the US economy. They talked about how they’re spending less on other consumer goods as more of their income is now going towards rent as housing prices increase.

Some respondents indicated that while the rising cost of housing is important, it is definitely not the most harmful threat to the US economy. Instead, they mentioned other issues, such as healthcare, developments in technology, and that more people are depending on the state of welfare.

While public opinion certainly is not the most accurate barometer when it comes to economics, public opinion does shape culture and behavior, and the way people feel,  is absolutely worth taking into serious consideration.

This is especially true when it comes to how people feel about the future of where they’re going to live, how they’re going to manage to get by, and whether that outlook is positive or negative regarding one of the staples of any respectable society.

Would you like to participate in the next Bay Area Ventures Conversation of the Month?

Tune in to Bay Area Ventures on SiriusXM Channel 111 Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School or go to The show airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time/7:00pm Eastern Time and replays throughout the week.  Its also available anytime on the SiriusXM mobile app.

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