U.S. Mover Rates Continue to Fall Despite Strong Economy

These days, Americans aren’t moving homes as much as they used to. More accurately, this statement extends back to the 1980s, with the mobility rate trending downwards since the middle of that decade. Now new data from the Census Bureau (as reported by Axios) shows the percentage of movers falling to a new low.

According to the Census Bureau, only 10.1% of Americans moved homes last year. Additionally, while relocations within the same county still make up the majority of moves, this category has also seen the largest decline, falling 2.4 points since 2005. Meanwhile those moving out of state continue to follow emerging migration patterns, with more Americans moving to the “Sun Belt” and fleeing the Northeast.

One factor cited for the on-going decline in mobility is aging of the U.S. population. As individuals get older, they tend to make fewer moves — thus the increasing average age in America could be contributing to the falling rate. On the other end of the spectrum, Millennials may also be playing a role in the decline as they’re more likely to live with their parents and less likely to buy a home or move. That said, it should be noted that the mobility rate of each generational group has decreased, not just the older and younger ones.

What’s odd about this continuing fall is that the strong economy doesn’t seem to be inspiring more Americans to move. In most cases, economists expect people to relocate in order to take advantage of better job opportunities. As Brookings Institution demographer William Frey explained to Axios, “It’s surprising because we have kind of a booming economy, and it’s a time you would think mobility would start picking up.”

According to National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun, the lessened mobility could have some side effects. Most obviously, the housing market is hurt when mobility slows because there are fewer people buying and selling homes. However one of the other potential impacts is to local infrastructure. As the theory goes, if city governments don’t see people moving away, there’s less incentive for them to fix their ails. This led Yun to note, “If there’s greater mobility, there would be more competition.”

Despite a few theories that might explain certain elements of the declining mover rate in America, it seems economists and observers are still a bit taken aback by the latest results. Given the recovering and later booming economy, Yun admitted to Axios, “Three years ago, I thought it would be a low point and I thought we would turn the corner.” With the mobility rate now reaching a new low, perhaps more studies will take a closer look at what’s behind this surprising trend.


Jonathan Dyer

I'm a small town guy living in Los Angeles looking to make solid financial decisions. I write for a number of finance websites, including HuffingtonPost and Business2Community. I founded DyerNews.com in 2015 to focus on personal finance and the emerging FinTech markets.

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