One factor in your likelihood to climb the economic ladder is where you live, both in terms of what city/region and where in that city/region you reside. The ability to pick up and leave for greener pastures–sometimes by choice, sometimes when you have no other choice–has been one defining feature of the American economy.
But now, that, like so many other characteristics of the economy we’ve become accustomed to, is going away. That is a a bad sign:
It would be heartening to discover that fewer Americans need to move these days because more are able to find great jobs right in their own communities. Yet there is abundant evidence that this is not the case. Most obviously, in recent years, unemployment has increased as migration has continued to decease. Moreover, along with everyone else, unemployed people are far less likely to move today than they used to be.
Nobody has a better reason to pick up and move than someone who can’t find a job—or at least so it would seem. But while unemployed people remain likelier to migrate than employed people, they are much less likely to migrate than in previous decades. In 1956, for example, 7.6 percent of unemployed males moved from one state to another during the previous year. Subsequently that rate fell to 7 percent (1966), 5.9 percent (1976), 5.3 percent (1986), 4.4 percent (1996), 4.3 percent (2006), and, finally, 2.7 percent (2012).
Tens of millions of Americans are becoming “stuck,” in every sense of the word. If we tolerate that, we bring on decline.