Last week the Census Bureau reported that only 11.9 percent of the population moved from one house to another between 2007 and 2008--the lowest proportion ever recorded in data that has been collected since the late 1940s. The number of people who moved--35 million--was the smallest since 1959-60.
Given the dire situation in the housing market, these numbers are not surprising. Homeowners are stuck and even renters aren't moving around as much as they once did. In 2007-08, only 5.4 percent of homeowners moved, down from 6.6 percent the year before and 7.4 percent in 2000-01. Among renters, 27.7 moved between 2007-08, down from 29.3 percent a year earlier and 30.3 percent in 2000-01.
State-to-state migration has been severely curtailed. The number of people moving from one state to another fell by 39 percent between 2000-01 and 2007-08, shrinking by 3 million.
By age, the largest proportionate drop in mobility has occurred among people aged 60 to 61--an age group once filled with retirees. In 2007-08, only 4.7 percent of 60-to-61-year-olds moved, down from 7.6 percent in 2000-01.
If you really want to know how the priorities of Americans are changing, then take a look at their reasons for moving and how those have changed over the past few years.
- Not buying: The number of people who moved because they wanted to buy a home fell by 48 percent, from 3.9 million in 2000-01 to just 2.0 million in 2007-08--the largest decline among all reasons for moving. While there probably is some pent up demand for buying a home, it is possible that many Americans are reconsidering the importance of ownership now that they know the risks.
- Moving closer to work: The number of people who moved to shorten their commute increased by 80 percent between 2000-01 and 2007-08, rising from 1.2 to 2.2 million--an 80 percent rise and the largest increase among all reasons for moving. This is bad news for the far-flung suburbs, which will be last in line for any economic recovery.
- Delaying retirement: The sharp drop in the mobility of 60-to-61-year-olds is reflected in the 38 percent decline in the percentage of people who moved because of retirement between 2000-01 and 2007-08. Retirement savings have been decimated and the age of retirement is rising, which is why state-to-state migration has plunged. This trend could gut destination retirement areas.
- Staying closer to home: The data show an ominous decline in the number of young adults who moved to attend or leave college, with the figure falling by 26 percent between 2000-01 and 2007-08. This decline is occurring as a growing proportion of students opt for less-expensive in-state public schools and is yet another warning sign for the nation's overpriced private colleges.
- Downscaling expectations: The percentage of people who moved because they wanted cheaper housing climbed by 35 percent between 2000-01 and 2007-08. At the same time, the percentage who moved because they wanted a better home or apartment fell by 29 percent.