WASHINGTON – Americans are shunning long-distance moves at record levels as many young adults, struggling without jobs, opt to stay put rather than relocate to other parts of the U.S. The new information from the Census Bureau highlights the extreme pressure that the sluggish economy is putting on people in this country, especially those in some of the hardest hit groups.
"It is truly a Great Depression for young adults," said Andrew Sum, an economics professor and the director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. "Young adults are working at lower rates than they ever worked before since World War II. As a result, you would expect migration to fall because they have nowhere to go to."
The share of longer-distance moves across states fell to roughly 4.3 million people, or 1.4 percent, down from 1.6 percent in 2009. It was the lowest level since the government began tracking movers in 1948.
Among adults ages 25-29, about 3.2 percent moved to a new state last year, down from 3.7 percent. Moving rates for college graduates, who historically are more likely to relocate out of state, remained flat at a low of 2.1 percent. Moves by those lacking a college degree dipped slightly.
William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who analyzed the data, noted that cities seeing relative gains were the handful that offered the promise of specialized tech jobs and hip lifestyles to more educated, young professionals.
"It is clear the weak economy continues to keep young people, especially college grads, locked down, unable to move to jobs, buy homes and start families," he said. "Many are hunkering down at home, or in so-called 'cool cities' until both the job and housing markets improve."
New York and Los Angeles were among larger cities seeing fewer losses as many younger people stayed put, according to 2007-2009 census data released Tuesday. Metro areas with diversified economies such as Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; and Portland, Ore., saw gains in college graduates relative to other cities.
Other metro areas seeing new gains or reduced migration losses among college graduates were San Francisco; San Diego; Boston-Cambridge, Mass.; and Washington, D.C.-Arlington, Va. All have burgeoning biotech industries and are home to several major universities.
Large metropolitan areas in Sun Belt states continued to attract some young adults but at a slower pace. Compared to earlier in the decade, migration dropped in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., and Riverside, Calif., as many people were locked in place due to a housing crunch and souring job market
The findings, which are based on a pair of government surveys, are reflected in official 2010 census results released last month. Those results highlighted Texas as the big winner — picking up four new House seats as the state's strong economy helped attract new residents in the last decade.
In general, the levels of people moving in the U.S. have been gradually declining for decades, more recently due to an aging baby boomer population that is less mobile. But the rate had generally leveled off around 13 to 14 percent before dropping sharply in 2008 due to the recession.
Overall, 12.5 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 38 million people, made some kind of move to a new home, a figure that is unchanged from 2009, according to new census figures. Only in 2008 was the overall mobility rate lower, at 11.9 percent.
Only moves within counties edged higher. That often is a sign that renters or lower-income people were relocating nearby due to foreclosures or to "double up" with friends or family, say analysts of the data. The percentage of people in the U.S. who moved within the same county rose from 8.4 percent in 2009 to 8.7 percent.
Among the other findings:
— Changes in residences within the same state were unchanged at 2.1 percent, while moves from abroad edged lower from 0.4 percent to 0.3 percent.
— Three cities in Texas — Austin, Dallas and Houston — ranked in the top five of metro areas with the greatest inflow of college graduates from 2007-2009, jumping several spots from 2005-2007.
The findings were based on the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey as of March 2010, as well as comparisons of the 2005-2007 and the 2007-2009 American Community Survey, which samples 3 million households.
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