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Not-So-Mobile America in Retirement

Last update on: Mar 15 2020

People like to think of Americans as being very mobile, moving from state to state. There’s a belief that most Americans move after retiring. Most of that isn’t true. About 70% of Americans live in the state where they were born, according to a recent study. Why people move is an issue of some contention. They might move for lower taxes, but a case also is made that they move for a different climate or for jobs. The interesting thing is that the rate of moving appears to have fallen in recent years. Presumably that’s because people have trouble selling their existing homes and aren’t sure there will be jobs where they move to.

The biggest draw of all for someone of working age, though, is a job. Nearly a third of Americans who relocate across state lines say they are moving for a “new job or job transfer.” And that, in turn, seems to explain why cross-state mobility has diminished.

In the late 1980s, about 3 percent of Americans moved to a new state each year. New research by Raven Molloy and Christopher Smith of the Federal Reserve and Abigail Wozniak of the University of Notre Dame links the current decline to changes in the labor market, rather than shifts in the cost of moving or demographic forces.

Job turnover has been dropping, despite the popular myth to the contrary. Molloy and co-authors find a strong link between lessening interstate migration and downward trends in the share of workers who move from job to job. And it appears this may be because changing employers no longer leads to as much gain in wages as it once did.

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