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We’re moving less — and that’s a bad sign for the American Dream

One in 10 Americans —11.2 percent, to be exact — moved between 2015 and 2016, almost half the 20.2 percent rate back in 1948, when the U.S. Census began keeping track.
One in 10 Americans —11.2 percent, to be exact — moved between 2015 and 2016, almost half the 20.2 percent rate back in 1948, when the U.S. Census began keeping track.

Americans are bucking tradition. Fewer are moving, and this includes both shorter moves across a county and longer moves across the country.

The mobility of Americans has reached record lows and it has been going down since the Great Recession, albeit a bit more slowly, according to the latest U.S. Census data. One in 10 Americans —11.2 percent, to be exact — moved between 2015 and 2016, almost half the 20.2 percent rate back in 1948.

“Mobility was once the cornerstone of the American Dream,” says a report in CityLab, “but today Americans move less often than Canadians, and only a bit more than Finns or Danes.”

Shorter moves were down considerably. Almost 7 percent of Americans packed boxes to move within their town, down from 13.6 percent in 1948, when the Census began keeping track of American mobility.

The rate of longer moves, those between counties, has slowed as well, from 6.4 percent in 1948 to just 3.9 percent today.

Why are Americans staying put?

Experts point to many different reasons, but a big one is that younger people aren’t as willing to pull up stakes. Millennials are moving less than previous generations of young adults.

In 2016, 20 percent of millennial 25- to 35-year-olds reported having changed address from a year earlier. In comparison, at that same age, 26 percent of the Silent Generation in 1963 reported moving within the prior year and for Generation X 26 percent had moved when they were that age in 2000. This low geographic mobility is happening even though millennials are less likely to be married, own houses and have kids than previous generations at the age, the usual factors that anchored people to an address.

An analysis of Current Population Survey data from the Pew Research Center speculates that the labor market may play a role.

“Millennials were hit hard by the Great Recession in terms of job-holding and wages,” according to the Pew report. “For many young adults who moved in the past year, job opportunities were a prime motivation for moving, and the modest jobs recovery may not be providing the impetus Millennials need.”

CityLab also attributes the moving slump to certain government policies, including “subsidies the federal government confers to homeowners through the mortgage tax credit — a direct subsidy of roughly $200 billion a year. And it could run as high as $600 billion when indirect costs are taken into account.” Homeowners are four times less likely to move than renters.

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