Struggling to Stay Afloat: Number of Underwater Homeowners Keeps on Rising

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Despite signs that some housing markets are improving, the overall trend is for home prices (and values) to keep droppingand dropping. As values shrink, more and more homeowners find themselves underwater, the unfortunate scenario in which one owes more on the mortgage than the home is worth.

The latest numbers from research firm CoreLogic indicate that the water keeps on rising on homeowners. At the end of the fourth quarter of 2011, 11.1 million, or 22.8%, of all residential homes with a mortgage were underwater—or upside-down, or in negative equity, whichever phrase you prefer. They all mean the same thing: that the owner owes more on the mortgage than the property is worth.

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And the number of such underwater or upside-down situations rose by 3.7% compared to the third quarter of 2011, when “just” 10.7 million homes with mortgages were in negative equity. The proportion (22.8%) of underwater homeowners in the fourth quarter represents the largest percentage measured since the third quarter of 2009, when CoreLogic started keeping track of such data.

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In terms of which states had the highest percentages of underwater owners, the usual suspects of states hammered by collapsed real estate markets are well represented. The Sunbelt states that saw home values skyrocket in pre-recession years are now the states faring the worst. In Nevada, 61% of homeowners with mortgages are underwater, followed by Arizona (48%) and Florida (41%). Next comes Michigan (35%), Georgia (33%), and California (30%).

But a sizeable percentage of underwater owners can be found in almost every corner of the country. In the Baltimore region, for instance, where there has been a hot market for homes selling under $10,000, the Sun reports that the number of underwater homeowners crept up to 125,000 by the end of 2011, up from 120,000 last summer. Overall, nearly 20% of owners with mortgages in the area were underwater.

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Over in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, meanwhile, despite an unemployment rate much lower than the national average, the number of underwater mortgages creeps upward as well. The Star-Telegram reports that 12.2% of residential mortgages in the region were upside-down in the fourth quarter of 2011, compared to 11.3% in the previous quarter.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.