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Americans Less Mobile in Rough Economy: Census

By Dave Eberhart   |   Friday, 26 Dec 2008 02:22 PM

The U.S. Census Bureau in its newly released population picture reveals that Americans are more than ever staying put in these challenging economic times.

“Making a move, especially when it is tied to buying a new home and starting a new job, involves taking some risk,” says William H. Frey, senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution.

“The evidence, released with the new Census statistics, shows that in this market and at this time, many Americans are not taking that risk,” Frey adds.

One upshot of the hard economic times is the strange statistic that Michigan and Florida both lost more migrants than they gained last year, according to a Brookings report.

“No surprise that Michigan lost population in light of the blow to the Big Three automakers and the state’s high unemployment rate,” notes Frey. “That Florida showed a net loss of migrants is astounding.”

Florida, however, is not alone in the migration crunch, according to the Census estimates.

The Census report indicates that there are new, more dramatic migration slowdowns in Arizona and Nevada – as well as diminished migration to such states as Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee in the Southeast, and Idaho and Utah in the West.

Among the 28 states that gained domestic migrants in 2006-07, all but five received fewer migrants in 2007-8, including Florida, Missouri, Indiana and Mississippi, which flipped from migration gains to losses, notes the Brookings report.

What’s more, even those who can no longer afford where they live now are reluctant or unable to pull up roots and escape.

Many would-be movers remain stranded in coastal states that used to be considered “unaffordable,” notes Frey.

In 2004-05, California and New York lost about a quarter-million migrants to other less pricey parts of the country. But with more people digging-in this last year, California’s migration loss fell to 144,000; New York’s to just 126,000.

The stagnation of outward-bound migrants also occurred in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut – as many young couples and retirees as well elect to hunker down and wait for better days.

Focus on Utah, Nevada

While Utah was the fastest-growing state in the most recent year, its 2.5 percent growth rate dropped from 3.2 percent in 2006-07. Nevada’s growth rate dropped a whole percentage point (from 2.8 percent to 1.8 percent)

In fact, of the ten fastest-growing states, only one – Colorado – grew faster this year than last.

“Unlike earlier economic downturns that affected migration in previously fast-growing areas,” explains Frey, “this one is not isolated to specific regions with slumping industries.

“This recession is tied, in large measure, to a dismal housing market and the credit crunch, pervasive in much of the country, which has not allowed people to sell their homes, should they want to move, or to buy new homes in previously hot destinations. Employment opportunities in many Sunbelt states have dried up, as have the more affordable houses,” he adds.

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