Census shows people aren't moving around country as much

Nov 16 2011 - 2:19pm

SEATTLE -- Waylaid by high unemployment and the housing crisis, Americans over the last year have mostly stayed put, resulting in the lowest rate of state-to-state migration in more than six decades, census estimates show.

In Washington state, the numbers of people moving on as well as those moving in were at the lowest levels in at least five years.

"Migration has something to do with getting your life going again," said Bill Frey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization. "A lack of movement represents people putting their lives on hold."

For the 166,000 Washington state residents who did move to another state last year, California, Oregon and Arizona were their top destinations.

In fact, the Golden State not only continues to be the most popular destination for Washingtonians, it's also still the source of the most new residents to this state.

A total of 39,468 people moved from California to Washington between 2009 and 2010, representing just less than a quarter of all incoming residents and constituting one of the biggest state-to-state movements of residents in the country.

It's a well-traveled route, Frey said.

"If you go back historically, major flows out of California have been to Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Texas," he said.

Part of the reason is that California serves as an anchor for the West Coast. "Big metros like Seattle attract people from metro areas in California," Frey said. "It is continuing for the same economic and social dynamics that have been going on forever."

The migration data the Census Bureau released Tuesday are derived from two different surveys it releases annually -- the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey.

Together, the data paint a mobility portrait of the country at a time when high unemployment and foreclosure would have played a significant role.

It shows that the majority of Americans never leave their home state. Just less than 60 percent of people in the U.S. are living in the states where they were born. In Washington, the rate was 46.9 percent.

Over the last year, 11.6 percent of U.S. residents moved to a different house from the one where they lived the year before, with the majority of them remaining in the same county or the same state.

It's a rate of mobility not seen in this country since the Census Bureau began collecting such data in 1948 and is down significantly from 1985, when 20 percent of Americans were on the move.

Respondents who had moved at least 500 miles away cited employment as the main reason for relocation. Moves of less than 50 miles tended to be linked to housing.

Because so many people relocated as a result of foreclosure or eviction -- and noted that on their survey form -- the Census Bureau has permanently created that as a survey response.

Richard Morrill, a Seattle demographer, said one of the most surprising results for Washington was its net population loss to Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. Washington lost more residents to those states than it gained -- a phenomenon he believes is related to retirement.

"We gain from every other state in the West," he said. "We even gain from Florida."

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

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