The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Americans literally aren’t going anywhere

Your chances of moving in the U.S. today are as low as they've been in recorded history.

You wish your house had this many rooms. Moving box courtesy of Flickr user <a href="">With Associates</a> , under a Creative Commons license.
Placeholder while article actions load

Long-distance moves — from one city to another, out of state, across the country — are often moves made for jobs. Local moves, on the other hand, tend to be more about housing. We move from one address to another within the same city or county to get a bigger home, a better home, a home in a different neighborhood or school zone. Or we move for reasons like eviction or rising rent.

Whether we're pulled by better options or pushed out by bad ones, local moves say something a little different about our lives than do long-distance ones. For this reason, it's particularly noteworthy in new Census data that Americans over the last year made such moves — within the same county — at the lowest rate since the government began recording this data in 1948.

The total mover rate — moves made anywhere — is still hovering around historic lows. From 2014 to 2015, according to the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey, 11.6 percent of the U.S. population ages 1 and older moved. But while longer-distance moves may be picking up again as the economy improves, the local moves that reflect housing changes are still bottoming out.

"People are moving to take jobs a little faster," said demographer William Frey at the Brookings Institution, "but that does not yet translate to moving locally."

[Most Americans' best days are behind them]

Some of this historic low reflects young adults who haven't yet been able to move out of their parents' homes. But it also tells us that other kinds of local moves aren't happening: Renters aren't becoming homeowners, young families in starter homes aren't upgrading to that three-bedroom, retirees who want to downsize may not be doing that yet either. The moves that improve quality of life — that mark milestones and life transitions — aren't happening for many people.

This trend tied up in the lingering effects of the recession has amplified a much longer-term pattern. Even prior to the recession, Americans weren't moving as much as they did 50 years ago. That's because the population has aged (older people don't move as often as younger ones do) and homeownership has risen since the 1940s (and homeowners don't move as often as renters do).

As a result of these short and long-term trends, Americans are now nearly half as likely as they were 65 years ago to move in any given year, whether just across town or much farther away.