Economy’s a little better, so Americans are on the move

That’s from the latest census. Most interesting segment of this article to me: as recently as 2011, the median home price in America was about $166,000; now it’s $212,000. That’s a $46,000 difference. That can be 1-2.5 years (or more) of retirement. As you’d logically assume, most people move to “Sun Belt” areas (Florida, Arizona, etc.), but this interactive map (from Forbes in 2012) is helpful. It’s crazy to consider the current up-tick in movement, because in October 2011 — i.e. not that long ago — the New York Times was defining American migration patterns as “a trickle.” About a month after that, the Washington Post endeavored to figure out why Americans weren’t moving anymore. This all followed a “Room for Debate” gloriously titled “A Nation Of Hunkered-Down Homebodies.”

If you want to dig really deep on this stuff, there’s a center at UW-Madison that deals with net migration patterns down to the county; this article summarizes some of their key findings. Census.gov has state-to-state migration flows as well; it was last updated only a few weeks back.

The scary, or perhaps “most relevant,” aspect of all this is that many people see mobility patterns as tied to the notion of the “American dream.”

The idea is, if you can afford to move from Boston to Phoenix and get a better, higher-paying job as you do so … maybe you’re truly succeeding in America. So if everyone is staying home, maybe we’re starting to regress as a nation? Obviously that’s an extremely simplistic way of approaching the idea; people move for a boatload of reasons, including weather, higher compensation, proximity to family, perception of quality of life, need for space, children, etc. Economics underscores a lot of it — I moved in the summer of 2012 about 1,200 miles, and the resulting costs caused me to miss two weddings that fall of close friends of mine — but it’s hard to narrow down the issue to simply an economic one, because every situation is contextually a bit different.

So, what’s the future of mobility? Will Americans continue to shift out of their county at a higher rate, a lesser rate, or essentially the same rate? Here’s one take (arguing that car ownership might become the landline telephone) and here’s another (more about social mobility than geographic mobility, but arguing the ‘American Dream’ may be dead). If you want to go super deep, here’s a statistically-driven article on various types of mobility (with correlations!). This paper even knocks down the very idea of “American exceptionalism.”

One thing I’ve always thought was interesting in all this is the relationship between parents and children; last year on CBS Sunday Morning (maybe two years ago), they had a feature on the construction of multi-generational homes. I think this could become a huge trend in America — essentially, a way to keep families closer. Somewhat unsurprisingly, most of these initial homes are being developed in FL and AZ.

Ted Bauer