The story of America is one of moving. A total of 13.6% of Americans today were born in another country, and most of us are descended from immigrants. This story of migration also includes moving within the country. Over the last 200 years, Americans have settled the frontier, moved away from cities toward suburbs, and migrated away from cities in the Northeast toward the South and West.
This narrative that Americans are constantly moving within the country is no longer true. Over the last 35 years, the number of Americans who have moved—within their county, state, or out of state—has steadily declined to nearly half of their previous levels. Between March 2018 and 2019, only 1.5% of Americans moved from one state to another, and 5.9% moved from one home to another while remaining in the same county.
The decision to move is a complex one. People are often searching for better opportunities but must also take into account factors such as family characteristics, lifestyle, and community. I have studied American migration for over 20 years, and I see no evidence linking the migration decline to changes in the way people make those decisions. Rather, I see three broad changes that have changed the outcome of those decisions.
First, real incomes have remained flat for over the last 35 years. Americans have been able to improve their standard of living only by both working more and borrowing more. That includes an increase in the number of women working, leading to the growth of dual-income households.