Americans have traditionally been among the world’s most mobile people. We think very little of picking up and moving to a new community for work or to start over in life. But, over the past decade, Americans seem to moving less than in the past. Researchers have suggested many potential causal factors for this shift. As the population ages, people become less mobile. The housing bust and Great Recession may also play a role as people become locked into mortgages or lack the funds to finance a move.
A new Federal Reserve research paper suggests some other factors may be at work. The study finds that changes in labor markets may be the primary cause for lower mobility of the US workforce. Labor markets have become more efficient in the past two decades, meaning that workers have fewer “workforce transitions” than in the past. In other words, they are finding it easer–thanks to the internet and other new tools–to find jobs that fit their needs and their skill sets. People are less likely to change jobs or to transfer to new positions for career advancement purposes. The researchers also find that the financial benefits of switching jobs is less than in the past. Similarly, the downsides of leaving a current job–due to the loss of health insurance, for example—are becoming more pronounced. All of these factors seem to be making Americans less mobile and less willing to hit the road for opportunities.