A mobile society? We’re not there again yet.

U.S. Population MigrationLast year, I blogged about a startling development in the mobility of Americans: fewer of us moved in 2008 than in any year going back decades.

If there was any proof of the recession’s toll on the lives of many Americans, this is surely it. Not only that, it reflects the lost allure of many of the “magnet” states of recent decades, particularly Nevada, Arizona, California and Florida.

Now, new data covering 2009 have just been released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The latest information reveals that more Americans moved in 2009 than in 2008 … but it was just a small uptick.

Moreover, the increase in mobility was almost entirely the result of people moving within their home counties – nearly eight times more prevalent than migrating from state to state.

What does this mean? In many instances, intra-county mobility may be the result of people who have moved in with family or to nearby rental properties after having lost their homes to foreclosure.

And the low rates of mobility in general may reflect the unwillingness or inability of people to move because they owe more on their mortgage than their home’s current value, thanks to the collapse of the housing market.

William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, sums it up this way:

“These data show that the great migration slowdown, which began three years ago, shows no signs of revising to normal U.S. patterns. Since labor migration is often seen as the grease that spurs the flow of goods, capital and job creation, these new numbers are not encouraging.”

Mobility almost always declines during periods of economic hardship. But it’s now clearer than ever that this particular recession has caused the biggest drop in mobility rates America has seen since the days of the Great Depression.

2 thoughts on “A mobile society? We’re not there again yet.

  1. Interesting.
    I’ve heard it said that mobility is one of the great economic advantages to having a homogeneous culture—in the U.S., one can move from North Carolina to Oregon, or vice versa, and still feel pretty much at home. Nashville, my home town, is overflowing with transplants. The same cannot be said of Europe. While there certainly has been internal migration (Polish plumbers in the UK, British retirees in the Dordogne), it has been on a somewhat smaller scale. People seem more reluctant to move to a place where they don’t speak the language and/or feel culturally alien. And when people do move, they tend not to put down deep roots.

  2. I believe that 2011 will be the year that 4G is prevalent in other markets beyond EU and Asia-Pac. The extension of this infrastructure to Africa and other remote geographies is the other dynamic to consider.

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