Americans Need to Move

It’s been two days since my movers met my contractors. I don’t mean a “Hey-nice-to-meet-you” kind of greeting; it was more of a “get-out-of-my-way-I’m-working-here.” My planned extrication from my old digs into my partially-renovated new home didn’t go like I thought it would. The exercise brought to mind the paraphrased wisdom of Von Moltke: “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

My contractor has been fabulous. And my mover was pretty good. But the flooring suppliers and others couldn’t seem to get materials out when they promised.

I’m now hiding in my home office amongst a sea of boxed and unpainted walls, putting off the many jobs that will take up my nights and weekends for months to come.

But that’s alright. I chose this. Many people ask why we moved, and sometimes I lay out the same answers I’ve written here before. The move accomplished several things for us, so we’re making progress in the grand scheme of things even if the details keep getting in our way.

The better question people should ask is, “Why aren’t other people moving?”

Stuck in First

The U.S. economy remains dynamic, even if stuck in a low gear. Employers struggle to find workers in some areas of the country just as firms lay off workers in others. But over the last 20 years, we’ve become sedentary, choosing to stay in a location even if we’d be better off packing up and heading out, and it’s holding us back.

From August 2017 to August 2018, the Census Bureau reports that only 10.1% of adults moved homes. That’s down from 15% in 2000, and almost 20% in the mid-1980s. The recent number of adults moving is the lowest figure recorded by the Census Bureau since it began keeping records in the 1940s.

And it’s not that we’re getting older. Yes, Boomers are aging and we’d expect them to move less, but the Millennials aren’t getting across the nation for their next gig.

In 1963, 26% of the Silent Generation was on the move; in 1990, 27% of the Boomers were packing up and moving out; and in 2000, 26% of Gen-X changed addresses. In 2016, just 20% of the Millennials made a move.

From 2017 to 2018, only 3.8 million people listed looking for work or a new job as the reason for their move, well off the 5 million people who reported the same in the early 2000s. That’s a 24% drop, but it’s worse than it appears. Since the early 2000s, the population expanded by more than 30 million people, or about 10%.

No Easy Answers

The reason people choose not to move isn’t clear. Unemployment and moving aren’t highly correlated, so it’s not a matter of people finding what they need around the cornrner. We still have a substantial mismatch between available labor, both unemployed and underemployed – and jobs that would best utilize their skills.

Housing costs are one factor that could be gumming up the works. If your best prospects are near a large city, but you worry about finding affordable housing that’s of a level you’d actually like to live in, then you might be persuaded to stay put, where at least you’ll be comfortable. That might make sense for you personally, but it’s holding back the nation.

If you’re considering a job change, you might look farther afield than your immediate area. Maybe you want warmer winters, or perhaps a view of the mountains. If you know a young person stuck in a job they don’t like, show them job listings in Denver or Dallas.

And if they need boxes, give them my email address. I’ll be happy to send them as many boxes as they need in exchange for an hour or two of house painting.