Economy Watch: Americans Moving at Record-Low Rates

The U.S. experienced its lowest ever mover rate between 2015 and 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's recent population survey. How does this affect the real estate industry?

Census-Bureau-mover-rateBetween 2015 and 2016, 11.2 percent of the U.S. population moved, according to the recently released results of the Census Bureau’s 2016 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement. That’s the lowest one-year mover rate ever reported by the bureau, which began tracking migration in 1948. At that time, moving was more common, as demonstrated by an annual mover rate of 20.2 percent.

That fact that Americans are more hesitant to change their residences now than they used to be probably has a number of root causes, some relating to the recession. In any case, that’s both good and less-than-good news for various parts of the real estate industry. It’s good for apartment owners, for instance: their tenants are sticking around longer.

Indeed, renters have experienced a greater decline in their mover rate compared to owners, the bureau said. Renters began with a mover rate of 35.2 percent in 1988 (when the bureau began tracking moves according to whether the mover rented or owned). By 2016, this rate had fallen by more than 10 percentage points, down to 22.9 percent. The decline for owners was not nearly as steep, as 9.5 percent moved in 1988 compared to 5 percent in 2016.

Slower moving velocity isn’t particular good for the retailers: people who move need, and want, to buy things for the new abode, even when the transition is only a short distance. But people aren’t moving those short distances like they used to.

Moves within the same county and between counties are well below 1948 levels, the Census Bureau noted. The most frequent moves in 1948 and 2016 were within the same county, but the likelihood that a household will make such a move fell over that 68-year period. The decline in within-county moves has been steady, culminating with the record low of 6.9 percent in 2016.