Frozen in Place: Americans Are Moving at the Lowest Rate on Record

A smaller share of Americans are moving each year than at any time since the Census Bureau started keeping track in the 1940s, according to new data. 

“We finally just decided...

“We finally just decided we weren’t going to follow G.M. around,” he said of his former employer. “I decided to take the opportunity to do something else with my life — to learn a trade instead of just working on an assembly line.”

The decline in moving rates has happened slowly, over many years[1], and marks a major shift in how Americans live. It is partly demographic: The country is aging, and older people are much less likely to move than younger people. But even younger people are moving less than before, Mr. Frey said, in particular after the Great Recession in 2008. This is especially the case for local moves — within a county — which comprise about 60 percent of all moves.

The trend is a reflection of patterns among millennials as they came of age, Mr. Frey said. Slowdowns in the housing and job markets and delays in marriage and childbearing pushed their relocation rates down substantially. And unlike older people, they have yet to resume moving at the rates that were seen for their age group before the recession, Mr. Frey said.

One result has been a geographic unevenness. Decades ago, less wealthy parts of the country tended to be the ones that attracted the most new residents, because lower rents and wages there drew in businesses, and people were more likely to move to where jobs were. But the economy is now less flexible, with prosperity clustered in larger cities and with businesses and people moving less.

“It used to be that poorer places grew faster, but that’s gone,” said Jay Shambaugh, an economics professor at George Washington University. “This is a really different economy than it used to be. It’s one where places that struggle continue to struggle.”

People who are moving longer distances, between counties and between states, are disproportionately college educated, Mr. Frey said. When Tyler Wilson graduated from college last year, he moved back in with his parents in Leavittsburg, Ohio, near Youngstown.

He got a job working at a factory that made parts for faucets, but he didn’t like it, and started applying for others, hoping to find something in a field closer to his major in college, political science.

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