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The migration rate (the rate at which Americans change residence) fell to yet another record low during the pandemic. Young adults and children, who are typically the most mobile populations, saw the biggest declines. (Brookings Institution)
NH: Since 1947, the Census Bureau has tracked America’s annual migration rate. And between March 2020 and March 2021, only 8.4% of Americans changed residence.
That’s a record low and marks a -0.8 percentage point drop from the year prior.
At first glance, these data seem to contradict previous surveys that found moving increased during the first year of the pandemic. But the numbers refer to different things. Earlier polls primarily reflected temporary moves, while the Census number tracks permanent moves. (See “2020 Demography Review: United States.”)
The 2020-2021 mobility decline was entirely due to declining mobility within state. Mobility between states rose slightly. Long-term, however, all forms of migration have declined: within county, between county, and between state.
Moreover, this long-term mobility decline going back to the 1960s has been dramatic.
Today, the migration rate is less than half of what it was fifty years ago. (See “America's Steep and Troubling Decline in Geographic Mobility.”)
So why has mobility been trending downward? Here are some possibilities:
- Millennial Risk Aversion: Millennials are less likely to move to unfamiliar places without friends and family support than previous generations at the same age. In 2005-2006, roughly 29% of 20- to 24-year-olds moved. Last year, that share was only 18%.
- Aging Society: People generally move at lower rates as they grow older. As America's entire population ages, relatively more adults are in the "lower-moving" age brackets.
- Immobile Boomers: Boomers have shown a growing aversion to large-scale senior communities far from where they used to live. A growing share want to "age in place" in their own homes. (See "The Death of Senior Housing.")
- Declining Business Dynamism: Many economists argue our economy is no longer generating new firms and new jobs at the same rate as it used to. This decline in business dynamism has coincided with the decrease in mobility. (See "Declining Business Dynamism: A Visual Guide.")
As the Brookings article notes, there could be a brief uptick in mobility once the pandemic ends. People could have delayed moves during the worst Covid-19 outbreaks. And we have certainly seen a recent housing boom.
Nevertheless, the long-term trend shows no signs of slowing down.
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ABOUT NEIL HOWE
Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.
A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.
Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."
Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.
Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.
Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.