The long-term strategy for building economic wealth appears to be holding house prices steady while waiting for wages to catch up. This article does the maths to answer one question: how long until the average wage has the same housebuying power of the average wage in 1992?
In 1992, the average New Zealand house price was $105,000. The average wage at that time was almost $15 per hour. This means that most Kiwis found themselves able to buy a house after 7,000 hours of labour.
By 2021, the average New Zealand house price has climbed to some $750,000, while the average wage languishes at around $34 an hour. This means that most Kiwis today are looking at putting in 22,000 hours of labour before they can get to the position of homeownership.
Economists predict that the average New Zealand house price will increase by double-digit percentages in 2021. 5% increases are expected for the two years after that, up until March 2024, which is as far ahead as anyone responsible will try to predict.
Let’s make two assumptions: firstly, that these forecasts are broadly correct; secondly, that house prices stop increasing after March 2024, allowing wages to catch up.
This suggests that house prices will top out at a national average of about $910,000 ($750,000 x 1.10 x 1.05 x 1.05). This assumes that they increase by around 10% in the year to March 2022, and then 5% for the two years after that, before remaining stable thereafter. The reality is, of course, anyone’s guess, but let’s say for simplicity’s sake that house prices reach $910,000 by March 2024 and then stay there in perpetuity.
To buy a $910,000 house with 7,000 hours of labour, a worker would have to be getting paid $130 per hour. Assuming that all other things (labour share, taxes, rents, non-rent living costs) are equal, $130/hr is what the average wage would have to be for the average worker to have the same housebuying power as the average worker in 1992.
As mentioned above, the average wage in New Zealand is around $34 right now. This means that it has to increase 3.82 times for the average worker to have the same housebuying power that the average worker had in 1992 – without house prices increasing beyond March 2024.
Wage growth over the past 28 years in New Zealand, from just under $15 an hour in 1992 to around $34 an hour at the end of 2020, has run at about 3% per annum.
If we assume future wage increases of 3% per annum, and no further house price increases beyond March 2024, then we will have to wait around 48 years for the average wage to catch up to the housebuying power that the average wage had in 1992.
In reality, it’s unlikely that house prices will remain exactly the same for the next 48 years. When the Boomers start dying off en masse, beginning in about 15 years, the demand for housing will rapidly fall all across the Western World. At that point, house prices could go in any direction depending on how much immigration takes place.
Of course, if house prices continue to increase beyond March 2024, then wages will simply never catch up. The West will become more and more verticalised until we effectively regress into a feudal-style economy where 99% of people are renters for life.
What can be said with confidence, however, is that it will take around half a century, at current rates, for wages to catch up to the point where the average worker has the same housebuying power they had in 1992. And that is even if one assumes that house prices don’t continue to increase.
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