The unseen threat to America: We don’t leave our hometowns

One big reason for the decline in residential moving stems from a decline in job switching. If people are less likely to change jobs, they are also, for obvious reasons, less likely to move. And if we look at job reallocation rates—a rough measure of turnover in the labor market—they have fallen more than a quarter since 1990.

The data show that job transitions are down and individuals are more likely to spend a long time with a single employer than ever before. Some evidence suggests that longer job tenure is driven by the aging of the workforce, as older people are more likely to be settled in their careers. Furthermore, employers like finding quality workers and investing in them and building them into durable and valuable cooperative teams. That process has become more important as specialization in the workplace has gone up. Finally, in a world with less-rapid job turnover and a lower rate of entry for new businesses, it isn’t as easy to switch jobs as it used to be. According to the data, the hiring rate has declined more than the firing rate, a fact that induces workers to stay put when they have tolerable but perhaps not ideal jobs…

Another factor in the decline of American geographic mobility is the decline in American geographic diversity. That is, different parts of the country are no longer so dissimilar from each other in economic terms. Since the golden age of manufacturing in the postwar era, American regions have lost much of their distinct economic flavor, blurring into a mélange of more or less indistinguishable service sector offerings. Each region has its shopping malls, its hospitals, and its schools in what is now a nationally recognizable sameness. If you go to the suburbs of both Atlanta, Georgia, and Columbus, Ohio, you will find more or less the same blend of retail and services. It is unusual that a manufacturing job unique to one region of the country is a major reason for a cross-state change of residence.