Americans starting to move again

WASHINGTON – Dec. 11, 2012 – More Americans are on the move again after a record-low rate last year, a hint of a thaw in the impact of the economic downturn.

The Census Bureau reported Monday that the nation’s rate of moving inched up to 12 percent after hitting a record-low of 11.6 percent in 2011 – still well below rates of about 14 percent before the recession that officially began in late 2007 and ended in mid-2009.

About 36.5 million people moved from March 2011 to March 2012 – most of them not far away. Even among the 11.8 million who moved to another county, most stayed within 50 miles.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution, a think tank. The rates of local moves (within the same county) actually went down and remain the lowest since World War II, he says.

The numbers over the past few years reflect a hunkering down amid economic uncertainty. Fewer people are getting married and forming new households, and fewer are having kids – reducing the need to move to a bigger home. Also, fewer people are moving after retirement.

“People are settled temporarily,” Frey says.

One glimmer of recovery: Long-distance moves are up slightly among 25- to 29-year-olds, a sign the economy may be improving.

“To the extent there is an uptick, young people are driving the uptick,” Frey says. “Those are job-related moves that are reflected in lower unemployment numbers.”

The nearly 12 million people who moved from one county to another was the highest volume since the recession began, says Kenneth Johnson, demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute.

The worst may be over for some states hit hard by the downturn. Johnson’s analysis found:

• More people moved into Florida than out for the third straight year after two years of net loss.

• Arizona and Nevada are still struggling. Nevada continues to lose migrants, while Arizona’s small gain is just a 10th of what it was in boom years.

• States such as New York, Massachusetts and California, which had been seeing major outflows before the recession, continued to lose fewer residents because more people are staying put.

“The recession had the effect of freezing people in place,” Johnson says. “Migration has significant economic implications for the country. The U.S. has long benefited from a very fluid domestic labor force.”

© Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc., Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY.

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