Today we are looking at the number of people who make a residential move in the United States each year. This is a measure of geographical mobility and has been tracked by the U.S. Census Bureau annually for decades. Using their data we produced a graph showing the annual percent of the U.S. population aged one year or more that moved from one place to another each year.
Americans think of themselves as a very mobile people, both in terms of economic mobility as well as actual, physical mobility. And yet, in truth, we are less mobile than we were in the past. As the data in the graph show, we actually move far less often now than in the past. The trend is towards fewer moves and moves of shorter distance.
There are many reasons for this change, from an aging population to less regional diversity in the growing service industries than existed in the manufacturing sector. An increasing use of occupational licensing practices and a declining rate of job changing in the United States also contribute to this change. (Yes, contrary to popular thought, we actually change jobs more infrequently than in the past.)
Some analysts see the declining rate of geographical mobility in the United States as one of the reasons behind a declining rate of productivity growth. Others see it as just another consequence of decreased median income growth. What is clear is the fact that we are staying put at much higher rates now than we did thirty years ago.
For those interested in reading more about this topic, we provide a link to further reading about it under the source note below.
Geographic reference: United States
Year: 1976 and 2016
Market size: 36.8 million (17.7% of the population) and 35.1 million (11.2%)
Source: “Table A-1. Annual Geographical Mobility Rates, By Type of Movement: 1948-2016,” Current Population Survey, Historical Migration/Geographic Mobility Tables, November 15, 2016, available here.
Original source: U.S. Department of Commerce.
Further reading: Tyler Cowen, “The Unseen Threat to America: We Don’t Leave Our Hometowns,” Time, February 22, 2017, available online here.