Foreclosure AND unemployment? Bummer.

When I wake up in the morning, my usual routine is this: shower, brush teeth, get dressed… all while listening to NPR. I like to listen to NPR in the morning because I don’t have to deal with commercials (like television) and it’s a pretty good source for coverage of current events. Lately though, all of the news seems to deal with how the world’s economy is tanking, and frankly, it is getting to be depressingly repetitive. Two of the big issues that come up time and time again are unemployment rates (which are at a 25 year high right now) and the home foreclosure trend.

empty lots.JPG

A sobering image of the tanking economy and foreclosure

Being a geographer I decided that, before reaching for the Prozac, maybe I should take a look at a few maps of these phenomena to see if maybe there was a relationship between the two. One would assume that as people lose their jobs that they would also lose the ability to pay for their homes. What I would expect is that the places in the country that show the highest rates of unemployment would also show the highest rates of foreclosures.

Keep reading to view the maps that I am comparing:



This Map is Showing Dec ’08 Unemployment
As you can see, the
unemployment rates are highest in the Western United States and also
the Rust Belt (especially Michigan), with a few scattered pockets in
the East.




The Above Map is Showing ’08 Home Foreclosure
In this map, we see
that ’08 foreclosures are concentrated in the West, with Florida,
Tennessee and the Midwest as smaller hot spots.


foreclosure 2009.JPG

This most recent map shows statewide statistics of foreclosure rates for 2009
In this map we see
that the foreclosure trend is spreading, affecting states that
previously appear to be free from trouble. How come? The issue in using
maps from different sources is that they could all be using different
data, which makes comparisons difficult or inaccurate.  Or, they could
be showing real changes in trend over time.


Realistically, I should plug the hard numbers that were used to make
these maps into some statistical formulas (regression or simple
correlation analyses) to see if there is a significant link between
foreclosures and unemployment… BUT, I’m not going to do that today.
Instead I will just take quick a look at the maps and make some

  • It seems that unemployment and foreclosures are both
    concentrated in urban areas (East & West Coast, Rust Belt). This is
    expected because most of the population is clustered in those areas in
    which there are large industries, which means that the high
    concentration of these said industries that are laying off folks are
    driving up the numbers.

  • There does indeed appear to be a pattern emerging between
    unemployment and foreclosure rates. I would assume that areas that
    experienced high unemployment in 2008 are still experiencing high
    unemployment, and that those people are unable to pay for their houses,
    as evidenced by the apparent growth of foreclosures.

So I’m done right? I figured it out? Actually… no.

While it may seem logical that unemployment would fuel foreclosures, it
is important to note that there are almost always other processes at
work in any
given situation. Things like this do not occur in a vacuum.
For instance, in the unemployment/foreclosure situation, the housing
boom of 2004-2007 comes to mind as an important contributing factor.
banks were handing out loans like, well… handouts, people were buying
and building new homes as fast as they could. Subdivisions were going
up all over the place, but especially in the Sunbelt states of southern
California, Nevada and Arizona… which is precisely the places that are
feeling the foreclosures the worst. The reason for this? People that
took loans in 2003-2004 were unable to pay those loans off in time,
causing the banks to foreclose on the properties in 2008-2009.

construction boom.jpg

This map shows the housing boom of 2004-2007
Notice how the places where people were buying and building the most homes are the places that are no experiencing high percentages of foreclosures. Uncanny.


So, after analyzing these maps, a general idea of how the current
economic crisis has affected people begins to take shape. While by no
means conclusive, it is still informative and useful. The cool thing
about maps is that they can show pretty much anything. I’ve seen maps
of fast food consumption vs. obesity, religiosity in the world, Co2
emissions etc.

So this is my challenge to you: go online and search for maps that
display information in new ways- and then interpret those maps in a way
that is meaningful to a real world situation such as I did with
unemployment and foreclosures. Let us know what you find!

Cameron for My Wonderful World

For more info, check out this and this story from NPR

2 thoughts on “Foreclosure AND unemployment? Bummer.

  1. Very informative. There are probably several layers more to this. Think like you did and look at population migration prior to these time periods, add in types of industry that brought these folks to these areas, are there even more layers not explored?

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