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What did Schiff really mean?

Schiff set up his contentious post by pointing out that mortgage rates hit a record 18.45% in 1981. What caused that monumental number in the eighties?

Runaway inflation, he says.

The Federal Reserve hiked the federal funds rate to 21% in June 1981, in reaction to rising oil prices, government overspending and an uptick in wages. When inflation is high, the value of the dollar decreases and lenders typically charge a higher rate of interest to compensate. This means everything — including housing — is more expensive.

“Married women worked to help their husbands buy more expensive homes,” Schiff explained. “Women working didn't cause home prices to rise, but rising home prices caused women to get jobs. It was inflation that caused home prices to rise.”

A popular theory posits that extreme inflation in the late 1970s and early 1980s spurred more women to enter the workforce. New training and job development programs that were started under the 1973 Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, as well as favorable developments such as employer-sponsored day care and paid family leave, may also have contributed to this surge of working women.

“Married women entering the workforce’ wasn’t a cause of inflation, it was an effect of inflation,” one X user reacted in a reply to Schiff’s post. “It became a necessity in the 70s. Of course there were other reasons, but inflation was one of them.”

Schiff replied: “Correct, plus rising taxes. Taxes and inflation reduced real earning of married men. So their wives were forced to get jobs to make up for that loss.”

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Soaring housing costs

One metric used to gauge housing affordability is the home-price-to-median-household-income ratio. At the beginning of the 1980s, the ratio stood at around 4.4, compared to 7.47 as of July 31, 2023.

That means the average single-family house in the U.S. today costs more than seven times the median annual household income.

So what’s causing the current affordability crisis?

Home prices surged during the pandemic, when record-low mortgage rates, accommodative monetary policy and new remote working trends caused the demand for homes to spike. At the same time, the supply of new housing dropped due to pandemic-related disruptions to supply chains and industry labor pools.

Now, mortgage rates are ticking up again and home prices keep rising because there are so few homes for sale — meaning there’s more competition for the ones that are on the market. Experts worry the effect of both phenomenons may have "crushed" the housing market.

Beyond that, other costs liked home maintenance, home insurance and property taxes have also spiked — and Schiff thinks these trends will “likely accelerate over the next few years” until inflation and interest rates have cooled down.

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Bethan Moorcraft is a reporter for Moneywise with experience in news editing and business reporting across international markets.


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