Donald Lambro

While President Obama was touring the capitals of Latin America this past week, Americans were being battered by one bad economic report after another.

The worst were in the housing industry, which is rapidly sinking into what economic analysts call a "double-dip recession," as home prices continue to plunge, mortgage foreclosures continue to rise and the home-building industry plummets into recession levels that haven't been seen in more than half a century.

A Commerce Department report released Wednesday said that sales of new homes fell by a jaw-dropping 16.9 percent in February. That followed an alarming report from the National Association of Realtors on Monday that said existing home prices had plummeted again in every region of the country and were now down by an average of one-third since the recession started.

Then came last week's Commerce Department report that new housing construction had nose-dived last month by 22.5 percent, the worst monthly decline since 1984. Meantime, new-home construction permits have dropped to their lowest level since the government started tracking them in 1960.

"Within the space of a week, the nation has witnessed the worst performances on record of new-home sales, home prices and building -- evidence that the housing market has sunk into a double-dip recession that poses a significant drag on the overall economy," writes economics reporter Patrice Hill in Thursday's Washington Times.

The housing industry is a pivotal part of our overall economy, and it's hard to see the rest of the economy expanding at a healthy rate when housing remains in a recession, threatening future growth.

Huge home-price declines of up to 60 percent in some regions of the country "increase the likelihood that more people will end up defaulting on mortgages that are worth far more than the homes they finance and that homeowners can afford to pay," Hill writes.

Peter Schiff, CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, predicts that home prices will drop by another 20 percent on average, triggering a wave of new defaults that could lead to "another, deeper financial crisis."

But these dismal housing statistics are not the only numbers that suggest the Obama administration's economic policies -- if there are any -- are not working and pose the biggest political challenge to his re-election in 2012.

According to the Gallup Poll's tracking surveys, no other issue is more important to voters than the economy, and clearly the voters are not happy with Obama's performance. It is one of his weakest scores: 55 percent say he is doing a poor job of making America prosperous again.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.