The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Is owning a house part of the ‘American Dream’? Depends on where you live.

The American Dream? Maybe. Photo via Flickr user <a href="" target="_blank">Jackie</a> , used under a <a href="" target="_blank">Creative Commons</a> license.

New data from the Census Bureau last week showed that the rate of homeownership in the United States is at its lowest level in nearly 20 years: 64.8 percent of American families now own their own homes, down 4.4 percentage points from the peak of 69.2 percent see in 2004. And at least some analysts are saying that that number is likely to sink lower, as younger Americans put off marriage, with home purchases following suit.

But as in politics, all real estate is local. State-level homeownership data show a wide variation not only in overall homeownership rates, but in the extent to which states have been affected — or not — by the collapse of the housing bubble. Click through below for a graphic showing trends in homeownership among all 50 states from 1984 through 2012, the latest year for which state-level data is available. Read on below for some key findings.

Click through for state-level data »

Homeownership is higher in states with large rural populations

According to the D.C.-based Housing Assistance Council, homeownership rates in rural and small-town areas stood at 71.6 percent, compared to 48.7 percent in urban areas. So it makes sense that the highest homeownership rates are seen in states like West Virginia (51 percent rural), Mississippi (51 percent rural), and Maine (61 percent rural). Conversely, the lowest rates of homeownership are seen in highly urbanized states like New York, California and Hawaii (which is, in fact, 92 percent urbanized).

The housing crisis barely left a mark on New England

Looking at the trend lines for states like Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, you'd never know that there was subprime mortgage crisis. Compare these states with the steep drops seen in places like Nevada and California, places that were hit hardest by the recession.

The American Dream means different things in different places

Home ownership has long been thought of as a cornerstone of the American Dream. But the 20-plus percentage point gap between homeownership rates at the bottom and top of the spectrum indicates that the dream in New York is very different than the one in West Virginia. Moreover, more and more commenters — like The Post's own Catherine Rampell — have lately been questioning the wisdom of "financially fetishizing homeownership."

And as cross-country comparisons show, homeownership rates in the United States overall are actually quite low compared to other countries. This suggests that homeownership is more important to the idea of the American Dream, than to the reality of it.