One of the defining characteristics of Americans has always been their willingness to pack up and move in search of better places and better times. The recession has radically changed that.
Last year, 11.9 percent of the population, 35.2 million people, moved, down from 13.2 percent, or 38.7 million, the year before. That was the sharpest drop in mobility since the dot-com bust of 2000 and the lowest percentage in 60 years, since the Census bureau began measuring it in 1948.
Americans aren’t as mobile as they used to be, due largely to the aging of the population, with the annual percentages running around 13 to 14 percent. The record year for mobility was 1951 when 21.5 percent of Americans — better than one in five — packed up and moved somewhere else.
Those who did move last year didn’t move very far: 65 percent moved within the same county and only 13 percent, about 4.7 million, moved to another state, a number that itself is down over a third since 2005. Those who can move in this economy generally do so for the most prosaic of reasons — a better house in a better neighborhood.
Some analysts say that the national emphasis on home ownership impedes our ability to recover from a recession because it’s much easier for renters, about 28 percent of whom move each year, to move in search of work. And it is true that the housing crisis has kept many people rooted because they either can’t sell their homes or can’t sell them for enough.
And it’s not like their jobs just waiting to be filled if only people would come and take them. While unemployment is worse some places than others — in the hard-hit Midwest only 11 percent of its people moved last year — the national jobless rate is 8.5 percent and may reach the double digits.
Some day — and one hopes it is soon — the recession will be over and the first thing many Americans, chafing at their unaccustomed immobility, will do is move.