American geographic mobility still limited

Richard Florida highlights how the percent of Americans moving each year has slowed, particularly compared to the postwar era:

Just slightly more than one in ten Americans (11.2 percent) moved between 2015 and 2016, almost half the 20.2 percent rate back in 1948, when the Census began tracking American mobility. Mobility was once the cornerstone of the American Dream, but today Americans move less often than Canadians, and only a bit more than Finns or Danes.

Both longer and shorter moves have declined over this period. Just 6.9 percent of Americans made shorter moves within the same county, down from 13.6 percent in 1948. The mobility rate for these types of moves plummeted between 1998 and 2008 (with the economic crisis) as the chart below shows, and has declined more slowly ever since.

(David Ihrke/U.S. Census)

Longer moves between counties declined from 6.4 percent in 1948 to just 3.9 percent today over the same period.

(David Ihrke/U.S. Census)

Florida goes on to provide several possible reasons for this more limited mobility. But, two quick issues come to mind:

  1. The historical comparison is both useful and might be a red herring. On one hand, we can consider trends over six decades and this provides helpful context. Too many current news stories talk about trends based on one year changes in data. On the other hand, the immediate decades after World War Two may have been extremely different with general prosperity in America and growing suburbanization. Should we expect the same levels of mobility today or was the postwar era unique?
  2. Is there an ideal level of mobility? I know Florida is in favor of mobility because it means workers can flock to places with jobs and cities that have certain features will attract motivated and talented residents. Clearly, no mobility would create issues as there could be significant mismatches between jobs and employees. But, instead of making comparisons to a few other countries, what would be a healthy level of mobility in the United States?

All that said, a less mobile United States is a different United States.

2 thoughts on “American geographic mobility still limited

  1. Pingback: More on the reduced geographic mobility of Americans | Legally Sociable

  2. Pingback: More on the reduced geographic mobility of Americans | Legally Sociable

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