The United States has long been known as one of the most mobile societies on earth. Throughout the history of our nation, Americans have seemingly always had a major collective case of wanderlust.
This was especially true during World War II when hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women found themselves posted to places far away from home. Getting a taste of unfamiliar and interesting locations — so different from what they knew growing up — many people elected not to return home from the war.
My father, who was stationed in Alaska during World War II and was mustered out of the Army Air Corps in San Francisco/Oakland, tells of acquaintences who opted to take a small cash payout and stayed in California, rather than accept free transport back to their homes in New York, Pittsburgh, rural Alabama or wherever.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the population growth of the Mountain and Pacific States plus plentiful manufacturing jobs throughout the Midwest sparked dramatic population migrations from South to North and from East to West. Families took annual vacation road trips of 1,000 miles or more, fueled by cheap gasoline and the brand-new Interstate highway system.
Today, things look much different. According to a just-released Rasmussen poll, 90% of respondents report that they have lived in the same state for at least the past five years. And nearly three-fourths report that they’ve lived in the same state for more than 20 years.
This news comes hard on the heels of the U.S. Census Department reporting that only ~35 million people changed where they lived from March 2007 to March 2008. The Census Bureau noted that this was the lowest number recorded since 1962 — when the United States had 120 million fewer people.
More recent stats for the comparable 2008-09 period aren’t yet available, but I suspect the numbers have declined even further. If so, it will represent a big change in one of America’s most unique and defining aspects — its mobility. I wonder … is another one of America’s trademark characteristics now becoming more a myth than reality?