One of the ripple effects of America’s economic downturn has been a significant drop in domestic migration – reports from both The Brookings Institution and the U.S. Census Bureau show that domestic migration has been on the decline since 2008, hitting a record low between 2010 and 2011. In fact, the Census Bureau reports that the rate of domestic migration in 2011 was 11.6 percent, a drop in the bucket compared to 20.2 percent in 1985.
Of course, the burst of the housing bubble is a huge factor and many states are still reeling from the effects. States that had previously benefitted from a large influx of new residents, particularly those located in the West and the Sun Belt, actually witnessed a decrease in net in-migration for the first time in years.
Obviously, the inability for people to sell their homes or gain financing to purchase a home is closely linked to America’s declining mobility as is the desire among organizations to manage costs by limiting the number of candidates they will relocate to fill openings. But the demographics of America’s most mobile segment also come into play.
More specifically, we know that younger Americans – those between the ages of 18 and 29 – are the most mobile population group. And it’s this very group that has been among the hardest hit by the recession. In December 2011, the unemployment rate for Americans age 35 to 44 was 6.8 percent, a striking contrast to the unemployment rate of 14.4 percent for those ages 20 to 24 and substantially lower than the 9.4 percent rate for those ages 25 to 34. In other words, companies are much less likely to hire those who are most willing and able to move while older workers either can’t or don’t want to relocate because they have stronger ties, such as children and spouses or partners with jobs, to their current residences.
The patterns that will emerge as economic conditions continue to improve remain unclear. Some surveys have indicated that Millennials are actually less open to relocation for work than previous generations, a by-product of their parents’ highly involved approach to raising kids. We may find that the longer-term trend is that fewer young Americans seek job opportunities in cities or regions that aren’t in close proximity to their families. Or, we may find that following years of difficulty landing a job young Americans are willing to go wherever they can find meaningful work.