Americans are on move again for work

Report: Relocations for jobs shows uptick from record lows

Bloomberg NewsNovember 1, 2012 

— Danielle Anderson landed a promotion in June that required her to move from southern California to Houston, where she bought a $280,000 townhouse near downtown. Since then, the 24-year-old sales and marketing manager has spent $8,000 on furnishings, hooked up cable television and hired a gardener.

The number of Americans moving has started to increase from a record low, promising a lift to the labor-market recovery as well as housing and consumer spending. An estimated 12 percent of U.S. residents moved in the year which ended March 2012, up from a 63-year low of 11.6 percent the prior year, according to an analysis of unpublished Census Bureau data by the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington-based research organization.

About 1.7 percent moved from one state to another, the most in five years, the data show.

Mobility adds flexibility to the labor market, allowing employers to fill positions more easily when skills may be in short supply. A lack of migration the past few years helps to explain why 3.6 million jobs were unfilled in August – 719,000 more than in January 2009, when unemployment last matched September’s 7.8 percent, Labor Department data show.

“Increased mobility will facilitate a quicker improvement in the job market, as the unemployed and underemployed can more easily move to where the jobs are,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pa. “I would expect mobility to steadily improve going forward as job opportunities and house prices increase.”

Migration is an “encouraging trend” for the labor market, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard told reporters on Oct. 15 after a speech. It has been a historical strength for the U.S. versus Europe, where moves are hampered by language differences, Bullard said.

Increased hiring and mobility support each other, said Wells Fargo Securities senior economist Mark Vitner in Charlotte. He forecasts “both job growth and mobility increasing modestly over the next five years, bringing us back to prevailing levels” that existed in 2007 by 2016 or 2017.

The aging of the U.S. population hinders a return to the 1960s, when as much as 20 percent of the population moved in some years, according to demographer Mark Mather, associate vice president for domestic programs at the population bureau.

Workers in 20s key to rise

People ages 25 to 29 are twice as likely to move as the total population. Yet even younger people aren’t as mobile as previous generations because the labor market is impaired: About 25 percent of people in this age group moved last year, down from 30 percent in 2001, Mather said.

Still, there are signs that more Americans are changing locations. Shipments handled by moving companies rose 1.5 percent in the first half of 2012 after a 1 percent gain in 2011, according to the American Moving & Storage Association in Alexandria, Va. Volume fell by 10 percent in 2008 and 15 percent in 2009. “There is a pent-up demand” for moves, which is “obviously closely tied to housing,” organization spokesman John Bisney said.

A rise in home prices this year for the first time since 2006 is allowing more homeowners to sell and move, said Brad Hunter, chief economist in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., for Metrostudy, a Houston-based company that tracks housing starts.

Housing starts in the U.S. surged 15 percent in September to the highest level in four years, according to Commerce Department figures.

The gain in mobility, while modest, “is an encouraging sign, especially for interstate moves,” said demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution in Washington. “It means young people are beginning to dig out of the trenches and may be able to go on with their lives, relocating to new jobs and getting into homes of their own.”

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