The 'Great Recession' and housing bubble have taken their toll on U.S. home owners. According to government figures released Monday morning, the nation's overall home ownership rate fell to 66.5% in the fourth quarter, the lowest reading since 1998.

Home ownership for all Americans peaked in the fourth quarter of 2004 at 69.2%, about one year before subprime production reached a record high of $800 billion and achieved a market share of 25%. (Ten years earlier subprime accounted for about 5% of all loans funded in the U.S.)

But the new figures also show that minorities and those under 35 are suffering the most in the race for home ownership.

Blacks saw their home ownership rate fall to 44.8% in the fourth quarter, the lowest reading since 1998. Hispanics had a 46.8% ownership rate, their worst showing since 2003.

The rate for whites fell to 74.2% in Q4, the lowest level since 2002. (The homeownership rate for whites hit a high of 76% in 2006. It fell below 75% in the fourth quarter of 2009.)

The Census Bureau also reported that the number of vacant homes up for sale rose above the 2 million mark again, showing that the market has made little progress in reducing this inventory.

Roughly, 2.09 million vacant homes were up for sale at the start of 2011, a 6% increase from 3Q10. Home builders have been waiting for this inventory to drop back to its historical norm of 1.25 million to 1.5 million units, alleviating the downward pressure on home values.

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