Friday, October 28, 2011

Census Confirms a Historic Reveral of Fortune for Internal Migration Among Americans

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Generally Americans have been amongst the most mobile of populations, especially within the country.  If there was a job in a far flung part of the country, many would pull up roots and go there.  Other countries are much more family centric - generally you live with your parents much longer, and even when you move out you tend to stay within a certain radius of your parents/family. 

Back in 2009, we mentioned a few stories about how the housing crisis / recession had created a change to this pattern.  The recession effects were pretty typical - less household formation as adult children stayed at home.... but we also have read many more stories of parents moving in with children.   [Apr 8: Recession Causes Relatives to Move in Together & Sharp Drop Off in Divorces. Housing Bubble 2.0? (Not)]   But what was especially different this time around was the fact so many people are stuck in underwater homes, and hence can't sell and move on. [Dec 24, 2009: WSJ - Recession Alters Migration Patterns in U.S.] [Apr 23, 2009: As More Homes Fall Underwater, Trapped Americans Cannot Migrate]


Migration around the U.S. slowed to a crawl last year, especially for this decade's boom towns, as a weak housing market and job insecurity forced many Americans to stay put. Demographers say the dropoff in migration, shown in Census data to be released Thursday, is among the sharpest since the Great Depression. It marks the end of what Brookings Institution demographer William Frey calls a "migration bubble."



Migration typically slows during recessions. But in past downturns, the slowdown has been more regional in scope, with workers fleeing weaker job markets for places where companies were still hiring. In the deep 1980s recession, for instance, laid-off auto workers fled the industrial Midwest for energy-rich states in the South with more plentiful jobs. What's unique this time is migration has slowed almost everywhere.


The bureau found that the number of people who changed residences declined to 35.2 million last year, the lowest number since 1962, when the nation had 120 million fewer people.


More data from the recent census confirms this issue:

  • Americans are staying put more than at any time since World War II, as the housing bust and unemployment keep young adults at home and thwart older Americans' plans for a beachfront or lakeside retirement.
  • New information from the Census Bureau is the latest indicator of economic trouble, after earlier signs that mobility was back on the upswing. It's also a shift from America's long-standing cultural image of ever-changing frontiers, dating to the westward migration of the 1800s and more recently in the spreading out of whites, blacks and Hispanics in the Sun Belt's housing boom.
  • Rather than housing magnets such as Arizona, Florida and Nevada, it is now more traditional, densely populated states -- California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey -- that are showing some of the biggest population gains in the recent economic slump, according to the data released Thursday.
  • Residents have been largely locked in place; families are stuck in devalued homes and young adults are living with parents or staying put in the towns where they went to college.
  • "The fact that mobility is crashing is something that I think is quite devastating," said Richard Florida, an urban theorist and professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. He described America's residential movement as a key element of its economic resilience and history, from development of the nation's farmland in the Midwest to its coastal ports and homesteading in the West.  "The latest decline shows we are in a long-run economic reset and that we never really recovered -- we've just been stagnating along," Florida said.
  • Roughly 11.6 percent of the nation's population, or 35.1 million, moved to a new home in the past year, down from 12.5 percent in the previous year. The current level of low mobility comes after the recession technically ended in mid-2009, beating a previous low of 11.9 percent in 2008.
  • It is the lowest in the 60-plus years that the Census Bureau has tracked information on moves, dating back to 1948.
  • The shares of people moving have been declining for decades, due in part to increases in two-income families that are more tied down by jobs and to an aging population that is less mobile. The peak for U.S. mobility came in 1951, when it hit 21.2 percent. The rate had leveled off at around 13 percent before falling off notably in 2008 during the recession.
  • Among young adults 25 to 29 -- the most mobile age group -- moves fell to 24.1 percent from 25.9 percent in the previous year. Longer-distance moves, typically for those seeking new careers in other regions of the country, remained largely flat at 3.4 percent. The biggest drop-off occurred in local moves, down to 15.4 percent from 17.7 percent in 2010, a sign that young adults in the prolonged slump weren't even willing to venture outside their counties, continuing instead to live with relatives or on college campuses.
  • Americans most often cite a desire to live in a new home as the main reason for moving, as well as reasons of family or economy such as marriage or a new job. But analysts say with many young adults delaying marriage while struggling to find employment and aging baby boomers expressing financial worries about retirement, the current mobility freeze could continue for several more years.
  • The annual growth of retirement-destination counties -- typically in Sun Belt states such as Florida, Arizona and New Mexico -- has fallen sharply since the recession that began in late 2007. It's down nearly half compared with the period 2000-2007, according to recent census data.
  • Renters were more mobile: Overall, 68.8 percent lived in the same rental unit one year ago.

The findings were based on the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey as of March 2011, as well as comparisons of the 2005-2007 and the 2008-2010 American Community Survey to provide a snapshot of every U.S. community with at least 20,000 residents. Figures on income inequality come from a census analysis of survey data from 2005-2009.

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