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.

The Residential Real Estate Market: Still in the Dumper

Home Foreclosures
U.S. home foreclosures set a record in 2009 ... and are on their way to being even higher in 2010.
When it comes to the U.S. residential real estate market, the latest statistics and forecasts don’t bode well at all for the industry. Recently released stats on foreclosure rates reveal that 2009 was the worst year on record. And unfortunately, 2010 is looking like it’ll shatter the record yet again.

According to RealtyTrac, a firm that monitors real estate and foreclosure data, more than 2.8 million properties in America received a foreclosure notice during the past year. That’s 21% more than in 2008 and a whopping 120% higher than what was reported in 2007.

Moreover, one in every 45 households received at least one filing last year – nearly four times higher than 2006. These ugly numbers were racked up in spite of robust foreclosure prevention programs, without which the figures doubtless would have been significantly higher.

Unfortunately, the scenario doesn’t appear any better for 2010. Unless and until lenders are able to get principal balance reductions, high default rates are going to continue. In fact, RealtyTrac projects that a new record of 3 million or more properties will get a filing this year.

Where are we seeing the biggest problems? Well … in Michigan, to nobody’s surprise. But also in Nevada, Arizona and Florida. Until recently, those were states blessed with dramatic – even outsized – population and job growth, along with commensurately growing political power.

But as outlined in a recent article by Michael Barone, in an interesting twist of fate, these states are now experiencing net out-migration, while erstwhile laggard states in the Northeast and Midwest are now showing net in-migration.

It’ll likely take years to sort out the scrambled residential real estate market we have today – a situation sparked by a housing crisis for which many in government and the private sector are responsible … but which has also caught far too many innocent people in its clutches. Hopefully, the lessons learned will not be soon forgotten.