More Front-Page Focus on "Stagnant Incomes" Under Bush

A piece on rising housing costs leads by lamenting "the crushing combination of escalating real estate prices and largely stagnant incomes."

Tuesday's prominent A1 story by Janny Scott and Randall Archibold on rising housing costs, "Across Nation, Housing Costs Rise as Burden - Middle Class Squeezed by Stagnant Incomes,"also dramatically raises a common Times pre-election theme - allegedly "stagnant incomes" during the Bush years.

"The burden of housing costs in nearly every part of the country grew sharply from 2000 to 2005, according to new Census Bureau data being made public today. The numbers vividly illustrate the impact, often distributed unevenly, of the crushing combination of escalating real estate prices and largely stagnant incomes."

(One suspects that "often distributed unevenly" line is code for "more of a localized problem than a national trend.")

Later Scott and Archibold admit this isn't unprecedented, while still blaming the lack of income gains: "Historically, it is not unprecedented for housing prices to rise faster than household incomes, since housing prices fluctuate more than median incomes. In recent decades, median incomes have not risen at the rate that they did in the booming 1950's and 1960's, yet real estate prices in many parts of the country have escalated sharply in recent years."

The long story is accompanied by a graphic on the jump page, demonstrating an arcane statistic under a dramatic pair of headlines, "Burden of Housing Debt Rises...and Renters Share the Pain." The killer stat? "Change in the percentage of mortgage holders spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, 2000 to 2005."

The changes are color-coded by state, and ranged from 0% in New Mexico to over 15% in New Jersey. The significance of the figures remain as clear as mud to TimesWatch, but could be spun as vaguely negative toward Bush, which may be why this chestnut storyemploying Census data made the paper's front page.