The Great Recession, now almost three years old, is really taking a toll on one of our most enduring symbols — the American homeowner.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the homeownership rate has declined to 67% in late 2009, down from 69% in 2006. But the New York Times reports data from the Federal Reserve that suggest the actual number is closer to 62%.

The Federal Reserve issued a report by agency analysts Andrew Haughwout, Richard Peach and Joseph Tracy, who say that the Census numbers are off because they account for homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages, and that skews the home ownership numbers upward.

From the Federal Reserve report, titled The Home Ownership Gap:

"Recent years have seen a sharp rise in the number of negative equity homeowners — those who owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth. These homeowners are included in the official homeownership rate computed by the Census Bureau, but the savings they must amass to retain their home or purchase a new home are daunting. Recognizing that these homeowners are likely to convert to renters over time, the authors of this analysis calculate an “effective” rate of homeownership that excludes negative equity households. They argue that the effective rate — 5.6 percentage points below the official rate — may be a useful guide to the future path of the official rate."

As disturbing as those numbers may be, there is decreasing hope that the housing situation will turn around any time soon. Mortgage insurance giant PMI is out today with updated numbers on its outlook for new and existing home sales. Originally, PMI had pegged home sales as rising by 6.1% for 2010 — not a bad number coming out of a major recession. But this week PMI has recast that number downward by 50% — to 2.9%.

Meanwhile, PMI slashed its growth forecast for new homes from 16.6% to 9.4%.

"The expiration of the second tax credit has hit housing activity hard, after having drawn sales forward into March and April. Moreover, all of the near-term leading indicators of housing activity suggest no pickup in coming months (and perhaps even additional declines). Directionally, however, this should not have been a surprise to anyone — although the magnitude of the falloff is larger than we expected,” PMI said.

The company expects better growth in 2011, both in existing and new home sales.

But that’s next year and we’re still barely through the first half of 2010. That means good deals for qualified buyers, as interest rates and home prices both remain low. But it’s bad news if you want to sell your home quickly, and at the price you want.

With those thoughts in mid, here’s a look at the freshest set of mortgage numbers, as measured by the BankingMyWay Weekly Mortgage Rate Tracker.

Description            This Week        Last Week

One-Year ARM           3.443%        4.102%

Three-Year ARM        4.154%        3.857%

Five-Year ARM           3.786%        3.812%

15-Year Mortgage     4.158%        4.194%

30-Year Mortgage     4.672%        4.684%%

It’s a buyer's market — no doubt about that. To get the lowest mortgage rates, visit BankingMyWay’s Mortgage Rate Search. Week to week, it’s your best bet for finding the best mortgage rate deal.

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