Are Americans Going To Keep Relocating?

There has been some discussion and speculation as to what the housing crisis and recession have done and will do to migration within the United States. Questions are posed as to whether or not the two have put a serious crimp in the vaunted mobility of American labor. A good article in New Geography doesn’t give a definitive answer but it does provide some very good information.

Wendell Cox points out that in 2008 670,000 people moved between states. That’s off the peak of 1,200,000 in 2006 but still not an insubstantial number. Mr. Cox then breaks down the migration trends by region and state with interesting results. It seems that more and more, citizens are opting for the less glamorous parts of the country as the two coasts continue to lose residents.

It’s always difficult to pinpoint exactly what is occurring with interstate migration. The data is based on estimates from the census bureau and individual states, thus subject to a lot of errors. Arizona, for instance, found that it woefully over counted its in-migration figures over the past couple of years due to some erroneous assumptions about building permits. Thus one could quibble with Mr. Cox’s article but overall, I found it to be a worthwhile attempt at quantifying trends in migration.

The willingness of Americans to pick up and move has been oneĀ of the enduring strengths of the economy. If indeed it starts diminishing, the repercussions for the economy and economic policy are significant. Some have ventured the opinion that the millennial generation has such a strong attachment to family that they while they may venture away for education, they will be much more likely to return to their roots than were their parents. That remains to be seen.

The coming fiscal stimulus package also has the potential to alter migration trends. To the extent that it favors either by intent or accident one area of the country over another, the relative attractiveness of different regions could be significantly impacted. For instance, the “rust belt” has a strong manufacturing infrastructure and could well see funds earmarked for green manufacturing projects directed its way. On the other hand, certain parts of the Southwest and Southeast have relied on population growth to drive development. A large part of their economies have been centered on construction to accommodate their increasing populations. It’s difficult to imaging how a part of the fiscal stimulus plan could be developed to accommodate that model.

Mr. Cox rightly concludes his article by noting that it is difficult to determine if current trends will continue. I agree but will rashly say that I think we might be at one of those tipping points. It seems to me that there are a lot of factors working to diminish the propensity of Americans to move and that there may be some fundamental changes in the nature of whatever migration remains. The 2010 census will give us some clues but its going to be a tough one to interpret. In a real sense this has been a bifurcated decade with economic booms and busts for the ages. Trying to discern trends from the data it gathers will be difficult to say the least.

In the end, this is one of those terribly important factors over which not even Congress has control.

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