The U.S. is moving less than ever before—and it's holding back the recovery

The share of Americans moving hit a new low this past year, according to the Census Bureau (via The New York Times’ Economix blog). Just 11.6 percent of Americans moved their residences between spring 2010 and spring 2011, less than the then record low of 11.9 that was recorded in 2008, at the height of the economic crisis, and the lowest level since the Census began tracking this in 1948. With home prices depressed and credit tight, Americans are less able to sell their existing homes at a profitor secure financing for a new home.

The reason that the rate dropped as low as it did, according to Alison Fields, chief of the Census Bureau's Journey-to-Work and Migration Statistics Branch, was because of "a drop in the likelihood of people moving from one location to another within the same county." Such moves are usually elective; only 18.6 percent are job related. But 35.8 percent of longer moves are driven by jobs. And as the Times’ Catherine Rampell reports:

Many economists are much more concerned ... by the low share of Americans who are moving between counties and between states. Declines in this type of migration have been partly blamed for continued high levels of unemployment: stuck in underwater homes they cannot sell, many unemployed workers are unable to move to areas where there are more job opportunities.

There is growing concern that being stuck contributes to higher levels of unemployment. Urban expert Aaron Renn, who blogs as “the Urbanophile,” recently added himself to the ranks of the stuck: “I'm one of them,” he Tweeted. “Marooned in Chicago because I can't unload real estate."

If home ownership was once considered a boon, for many it is now a burden. While there has been some debate among economists over the extent to which being stuck in underwater homes has constricted Americans’ ability to take advantage of employment opportunities in other places, the data suggests it is significant. 

One thing that is beyond any doubt—Americans, who a century ago spread out across a continent—are now moving at almost half the rate they did in the 1950s. From 1951-1952, for example, 20.3 percent of Americans changed residences, the beginnings of the great suburban boom. Post-crisis, a new trend has begun to emerge: America the Stuck.     

Stay tuned for additional posts on this subject. Tomorrow I turn to the state-by-state geography of being stuck.

Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

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