Fewer Americans Struggling to Pay Mortgage

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Fewer Americans are having trouble paying their mortgages now compared to a year ago, according to a new Harris Interactive poll.

About 22% of those surveyed last month said they had difficulty making their mortgage payments, down from 29% a year earlier, Harris said in a report released Monday. Additionally, 21% of respondents believed they were "under water" on their mortgage, meaning that the outstanding balance is higher than the home is worth, according to the report. That's down three percentage points from last year.

The findings seem to reflect an improving job market, with more jobs and lower unemployment. March's unemployment rate fell to 8.8% from 8.9% in February while the U.S. economy added 216,000 jobs, the U.S. Labor Department said last week. In March 2010, the unemployment rate was 9.7%.

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But the news isn't all good. Another reason for the decline in struggling homeowners is that some of those who had been having trouble keeping up their payments last year have since sold or lost their homes through foreclosure. Of those polled, 66% said they had a mortgage, down from 69% in Harris's year-ago survey.

After all, the U.S. housing market is still in flux. The median home price is February was $156,100, down 5.2% from a year earlier, while so-called distressed homes -- houses sold at a discount -- accounted for 39% of February sales, the National Association of Realtors said last week.

"These findings are consistent with other Harris Poll data on the economy that show a very modest, but, still painfully slow, recovery from the recession," Harris Interactive said in a statement. "Many millions of people are still hurting badly even if the numbers are slightly better than they were last year."

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