Moving, but Not Up

Moving, but Not Up

I like offbeat economic indicators – the number of boats or RVs sold, what colors are in the crayon box, etc. etc. A lot of time they tell you what is going on just as well as some of the stuffier stuff  (y’know, GDP and all that)  that we all track every day.  So I was glad to see the U.S. Census Bureau release their survey of ‘movers’ – people shifting households.

The ‘Moving Rate’ is supposed to be an unambiguous economic indicator. In good times, people feel hopeful and pull up stakes to go to new areas and new jobs. In bad times, they hold on to what they have  and stay put.

 You could see the phenomenon in action in 2008, when the recession took hold and the mover rate slipped to 11.9% from 13.2% in 2007.  That was the biggest slide in the rate since they started tracking the rate in 1948.

The mover rate went up in 2009, to 12.5% – which, all things being equal, should be great news. Right now, though, nothing is the way that it seems.

Thing is, people are moving again, but not because they see bright opportunities elsewhere.

The moving rate from state to state (the measure most closely correlated with people moving for better opportunities) stayed at 1.6%, same as in 2008.  What did rise, however, was the rate of those moving within the same county went from 7.8% to  8.4%.   That might be okay if people were moving up to bigger houses close to home, but of course they weren’t. They were forced to move house because they couldn’t afford to stay where they were, and in many cases  had defaulted on the mortgage.

So not great stuff – but things are getting better, right? After all, employment is moving up, if only a little. That should stabilize things a bit more…all things being equal.

Oh, that again.

It’s still early days, but at this point it is hard to say that things are going to return to ‘normal’ in terms of labor mobility. They should – the way to have a healthy labor market is to have people going where the jobs are. Problem is, if people are still insecure about their economic prospects, then they are going to be cautious about pulling up stakes.

Things will get better, and people will move again, for all the right reasons.  That always happens after recession.

But, given that this recession was just a little (or rather a lot) worse than the last few, it may take longer for things to get back to what looks like normal.

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