Wall Street Journal Sounds Fake Alarm Over Mortgage Debt

The Wall Street Journal, in its persistent quest to mislead people about financial statistics, has this to say today:

U.S. Mortgage Debt Hits Record, Eclipsing 2008 Peak

U.S. mortgage debt reached a record in the second quarter, exceeding its 2008 peak as the financial crisis unfolded. Mortgage balances rose by $162 billion in the second quarter to $9.406 trillion, surpassing the high of $9.294 trillion in the third quarter of 2008, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said Tuesday….The figures are nominal, meaning they aren’t adjusted for inflation.

Nominal, you say? How about if we go ahead and correct for inflation, just for laughs? In fact, let’s take the advice of Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, who told the Journal, “What’s more interesting is when you look at the service burden, we don’t have more debt.” Here it is:

That sure doesn’t look like a new record, does it? It’s true that much of this decline is due to low interest rates, which can always change. But there’s sure no hint of that on the horizon. The Fed just lowered policy rates and certainly shows no inclination to raise them anytime soon.

The fact that some government agency reports a number that happens to be higher than some previous number is not necessarily a good hook for a story—and it’s definitely not a good reason for a big headline that screams “mortgage debt hits record.” At the absolute least, you need to correct a time series like this for inflation, and at best you need to present it in a way that actually makes sense. Percentage of income is usually the most sensible way to present debt.

But if you did that you wouldn’t have a story. Can’t have that, I guess.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE A POSITIVE STORY—OR TWO?

“Great journalism really does make a difference in this world: it can even save kids.”

That’s what a civil rights lawyer wrote to Julia Lurie, the day after her major investigation into a psychiatric hospital chain that uses foster children as “cash cows” published, letting her know he was using her findings that same day in a hearing to keep a child out of one of the facilities we investigated.

That’s awesome. As is the fact that Julia, who spent a full year reporting this challenging story, promptly heard from a Senate committee that will use her work in their own investigation of Universal Health Services. There’s no doubt her revelations will continue to have a big impact in the months and years to come.

Like another story about Mother Jones’ real-world impact.

This one, a multiyear investigation, published in 2021, exposed conditions in sugar work camps in the Dominican Republic owned by Central Romana—the conglomerate behind brands like C&H and Domino, whose product ends up in our Hershey bars and other sweets. A year ago, the Biden administration banned sugar imports from Central Romana. And just recently, we learned of a previously undisclosed investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, looking into working conditions at Central Romana. How big of a deal is this?

“This could be the first time a corporation would be held criminally liable for forced labor in their own supply chains,” according to a retired special agent we talked to.

Wow.

And it is only because Mother Jones is funded primarily by donations from readers that we can mount ambitious, yearlong—or more—investigations like these two stories that are making waves.

About that: It’s unfathomably hard in the news business right now, and we came up about $28,000 short during our recent fall fundraising campaign. We simply have to make that up soon to avoid falling further behind than can be made up for, or needing to somehow trim $1 million from our budget, like happened last year.

If you can, please support the reporting you get from Mother Jones—that exists to make a difference, not a profit—with a donation of any amount today. We need more donations than normal to come in from this specific blurb to help close our funding gap before it gets any bigger.

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