This represents an 8.4 percent mover rate, the lowest documented figure since records started being kept in the 1940s, and suggests the country’s long downward trend was not interrupted by the pandemic.
“It does sort of negate the idea that there’s been this huge amount of movements during the pandemic,” said William Frey, a senior demographer at the Brookings Institution who studies migration.
The previous five years also reflected record lows in mover rates, which have steadily decreased since the post-World War II decades, when around a fifth of the country moved each year.
The late 1940s to the 1960s “was a period of economic growth and robust housing consumption, with a younger population than today,” Frey wrote in a December blog post. “Afterwards began a gradual but sustained downturn in migration due to a variety of demographic and economic forces, including the rise of dual-earner households (making them less footloose), an aging population, and more homogenous labor markets emerging across the country.”
By the late 1990s, just 15 to 16 percent of the population moved each year, dropping to 13 to 14 percent in the early 2000s and below 10 percent for the past three years.
The decreases correlate with an overall decline in the nation’s total population growth, which the 2020 Census showed was at its lowest since the 1930s.
During the pandemic, stories abounded of people being forced to move because of economic hardship or relocating to be closer to family, get more space or take advantage of being able to telework.
But surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center found that some pandemic moves were temporary, including a February analysis that showed 31 percent of those who moved due to the coronavirus outbreak said they were back in the same home where they had been living before the pandemic. Other analyses found there was no mass movement to flee cities, based on postal change of address data.
Millennials are helping to drive the decline in movement, Frey said, noting that adults ages 18 to 34 are historically the most mobile class of Americans.
But in the past decade this age group has been hit by housing and job crises that have significantly affected their mobility, he wrote, adding that they “were saddled with ‘stuck-in-place’ issues associated with higher housing costs and underemployment, leading them to postpone key life events such as marriage, childbearing, and homeownership.”