Forget lucky number seven. What the country needs right now is a magic 150,000. Why? That's the number of jobs the American economy needs to produce each month to keep up with the growing labor force—and it's not happening, as the chart above shows. Instead, the monthly employment numbers have drifted above and below 150,000, a level that hardly represents the type of ongoing job creation that apartment firms want. “It's just been a very difficult time,” says Mark Obrinsky, chief economist for the NMHC.

It also represents a change from past recession recoveries. “When we were looking at apartments in the 1990s, it was always a given that yearly job growth would be 2 percent,” says David Schwartz, managing member of Waterton Associates, a Chicago-based multifamily owner and manager. “This time, it's been half that. It's definitely had an impact on the recovery of the multifamily industry.”

Even if the job numbers do improve, both Schwartz and Obrinsky suggest those stats won't translate into higher apartment rents and occupancies for awhile. “It's not just about people having jobs,” the economist says, “but people having a better feeling about the economy.”